Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Written evidence from County Councils Network (CCN) (ARSS 61)

The County Councils Network (CCN) is a cross-party special interest group of the Local Government Association which speaks, develops policy and shares best practice for the County family of local authorities, whether unitary or upper tier. CCN's 38 member councils, with over 2,500 Councillors, serve 24 million people over 45 thousand square miles or 87% of England.

The CCN has undertaken extensive policy and good practice work on sub-regional arrangements, economic development, and local government action to tackle the recession. The CCN therefore welcomes the opportunity to engage with the CLG Select Committee's inquiry into the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies. The following response was agreed by elected members at CCN Council on 8 September 2010.

In the "CCN Manifesto" published in advance of the 2010 General Election, the CCN argued:

…that powers, functions and funding should be devolved from unelected regional and sub regional bodies to elected local government, and to county authorities in continuing multi-tier areas. This would include responsibility for strategic economic development, regional planning (both spatial planning and economic strategy) and learning and skills. In continuing multi-tier areas county councils would take responsibility for sub-regional spatial and economic strategies, working with other authorities in the region to ensure that where needed there is an overall congruent regional strategy which relates both to the specific needs of sub regions and to national strategy.

The CCN therefore supports the devolution of a wide range of economic and business support functions from the regional tier to a geographic scale which more accurately reflects functional economic geographies, and provides for a balance between local knowledge and flexibility, and strategic capacity. As part of this, the CCN welcomes in principle the abolition of regional spatial strategies.

Addressing the particular questions identified by the inquiry's terms of reference, the CCN would make the following points:

Targets do not build houses, and regional totals in particular do not necessarily build the right houses in the right places. While some communities have felt that too much housing development has been planned for their area, there are other examples of locally-supported, locally-needed, housing development which has been rejected at Ministerial level because of a "regional plan" which was set remotely from those communities.

CCN considers that a sub-regional approach to planning grounded in local democracy and awareness of the aspirations and needs of local areas is more likely to result in sustainable housing growth and support strong economic performance than top down imposition of targets.

The impact of the Government's incentive plan is, at this stage, hard to predict with confidence. The CCN supports a greater recognition of population growth in local government funding, and this is one way of achieving that, provided funding is distributed in line with service costs. However, as present indications are that the funding will be found from within the existing grant, the offer of "funding from the centre" is not all it appears, leaving local government potentially faced with a zero-sum game. It will be possible to comment in more detail when the proposed scheme is published.

The CCN supports flexible arrangements for ongoing work on issues such as flooding, waste, and minerals, identified as part of the RSS. In many cases there will be an existing plan at unitary or upper-tier level, such as a county minerals plan, or an existing amalgamation based on natural boundaries, as with lead local flood authorities and in some areas of the country amalgamations of Internal Drainage Boards representing a sub-catchment area.

Where more formal cross-boundary working is required, most CCN members are likely to feel that this should take place on a similar geographic footprint to the Local Enterprise Partnership, but should be led from the bottom up, rather than imposed by central Government. If LEPs were to fulfil a planning function as suggested, it would not be appropriate for that function to be exercised by a body which had only a minority of members with a democratic mandate.

The CCN would be happy to discuss the future of sub-regional arrangements in more detail at the committee's convenience. For more information, please contact.

September 2010

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