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

Written evidence from the Norfolk County Council and Norfolk County Strategic Services (ARSS 91)


1.1  The call for evidence was sent out in early August and will focus on the implications for house building but will also consider;

the arrangements which should be put in place to ensure appropriate cooperation between local planning authorities on matters formerly covered by RSS (eg waste, minerals, flooding, natural environment, renewable energy etc);

the adequacy of proposals already put forward by the Government, including a proposed duty to cooperate and the suggestion that LEPs may fulfil a planning function; and

how the data and research collated by the former Regional Bodies should be made available to local authorities and what arrangements should be put in place to update and collect further research on matters crossing local authority boundaries.

1.2  This response proposes that there is merit in ensuring a strengthened role for Counties who are well placed to assist in filling the gap left by the abolition of RSS yet still fit the localism agenda.


2.1  Norfolk County Council is already responsible for transport, waste, minerals, surface water flooding and flood risk management and is working in partnerships to deliver strategies and plans for these aspects of spatial planning in Norfolk.

2.2  Spatial planning requires a much broader approach than just land use planning, including understanding and developing policy for the economy, linking job growth with housing growth and ensuring appropriate infrastructure provision.

2.3  Through partnership working the Council can bring a larger than local perspective on strategic issues, such as major infrastructure, and help embed this in more local plan-making. Infrastructure and service providers need a larger than local picture to plan for their investment. Norfolk County Council has been helping to provide this through the Norfolk County Strategic Partnership (NCSP) by joining up existing core strategy proposals to form a strategic framework for Norfolk setting out the scale and location of the significant growth proposals.


3.1  The Norfolk County Strategic Partnership in 2008 set up the Norfolk Strategic Services Co-ordinating Group to provide the strategic framework for growth in Norfolk. By bringing the key service providers together (including police, health, education, social services, housing, planning, transport, water, electricity) the group has become a strong lobbying voice for infrastructure requirements in the county. The group has engaged with EDF energy in its energy networks consultation and held a focused workshop to get an understanding of the funding issues. EDF representatives attend the group and receive shared growth and services information. In turn the company has asked for a county officer to be a contact for further consultations. This is important because there are significant gaps in power transmission networks and capacity issues in the county and it is hindering job growth in several areas.

3.2  There are also significant issues for water supply and disposal associated with growth. A workshop on water issues was also held involving representatives from the lead agencies, Anglian Water and private developers to get a fuller understanding of the issues and funding implications. These initiatives have been welcomed by district planning officers as they add weight to the ability to raise issues and influence outcomes on wider than local issues.

3.3  NHS Norfolk has also been kept informed of Local development Framework (LDF) consultations across the county and joint service mapping has proved useful.


4.1  We have concern that the proposed localism agenda described so far does not take account of the need for investors and service providers to access the wider long term picture for growth in order to plan for long term investment. Although the regulated services such as water and power companies cannot commit to funding for schemes that are regarded as speculative almost until the certainty of a planning permission is provided, they do have longer term plans for which they need a longer term joined up growth strategy.

4.2  For the immediate future Local authorities in Norfolk are continuing to plan for housing to meet the existing RSS targets, as these reflect previous local assessment of need. It is likely that with the near collapse of the housing market, it will take some years to reach the required levels of house building. In the longer term they will need to review plans and will need a sound evidence base for doing so. For the past thirty years or so this has been provided by some form of strategic planning process. Whatever decisions are taken locally, plans need to be informed by population, housing and job forecasts which can only be done reliably at a larger than local level.

4.3  Norfolk produces regular demographic projections and information, monitors development of both housing and jobs across the county and produces annual monitoring statements for the county. This is important to understand whether the required jobs and housing are being delivered and districts can see how others are doing on a consistent basis. The county also has the expertise to understand and engage in the modelling of job and housing forecasts. Such demographic and forecasting skills are not available in individual districts and it would be costly to buy them in.

4.4.  Norfolk's Economic Development and Strategy Group also took the lead in producing the Local Economic Assessment (LEA) which provides a shared understanding of local economic challenges and what needs to be done to address them. Much of the data in the LEA is relevant to planning. Norfolk CC is well placed to update and collect further research across local authority boundaries in supporting district councils in the development of their LDFs.


5.1  Recent advice on forming Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) suggests that they will 'want to create the right environment for business and growth in their areas by tackling issues such as planning and housing, local transport and infrastructure priorities, employment, and enterprise and the transition to the low carbon economy'. This suggests a similar approach to that outlined in this note. However it is not at all clear that everywhere would have an LEP and a strategic spatial framework requires whole area coverage so it will only provide an approach where LEPs are set up.

5.2  It is suggested that in the short term, under the duty to cooperate, all local authorities agree the joined up picture provided by existing or emerging Core Strategies which can be used to inform the LEP if there is one or the economic strategy. Such non-statutory frameworks would hold little weight in spatial planning terms but could inform inward investment and infrastructure decisions and funding bids.

5.3  The Open Source Green Paper stated that a specific role for county and unitary authorities would be to compile infrastructure plans. Whether or not this is done under the LEP, it is a sensible suggestion and is supported by much of this evidence.


6.1  There has been little information about what the 'duty to cooperate' means except a line in the Green Paper saying it would enable "a sensible conversation between all those involved in shaping neighbourhoods and the landscape". The intention may be that this is to be interpreted at the very local neighbourhood level but it is essential to understand that cooperation at a strategic and sub-regional level is vital in delivering major infrastructure and services for all communities. This will be important for future working in two tier areas and the following example shows how partnership working even on an informal basis has been successful in delivering the Greater Norwich growth agenda.


7.1  In October 2006 the Greater Norwich Development Partnership comprising Broadland District Council, Norwich City Council, South Norfolk Council, Norfolk County Council and the Broads Authority, was created to provide a mechanism for planning and managing the large scale growth required for the area. The shared need to meet ambitious local housing and job targets has made cross-boundary co-operation essential.

7.2  The main work of the partnership has been to produce two key strategy documents; the Joint Core Strategy (JCS) and the Greater Norwich Economic Strategy (GNES).

7.3  The JCS, which was submitted in March 2010, is the fulfilment of the Local Development Framework responsibilities of three of the five partners (Broadland, Norwich City, South Norfolk). One of the first joint strategies of its kind in the country, it is aligned with the pre-existing core strategy for the Broads Authority and is intended to meet the strategic challenges for the period 2008 and 2026. The GNES for 2009-14 focuses on "jobs, homes, prosperity for local people".

7.4  In parallel with the preparation of the JCS and the GNES, the first phase of the partnership, a number of projects to support the achievement of the strategic goals have been delivered. A total of 17 projects, with an annual spend in the last year of just over two million pounds are now being implemented.

7.5  Quote from the Audit Commission Report on the GNDP

"The partnership consistently combines the contributions of each of the partners in ways that add value. Despite seeming like a necessary alliance to deliver local growth, the partnership was no easy coalition, with a legacy of disputes between each and all of the local authorities. That both strategies and projects are being delivered between the partners is a testament to the political will of all partners to make the arrangements work. Bringing the Broads Authority into the partnership has ensured that the focus on key green infrastructural challenges, especially water, has remained sharp. All this has resulted in a partnership that is generally seen, even by critics, as a necessary and positive contribution to the future of the area."

7.6  There is also strong partnership working in the other Growth Points in Norfolk, for King's Lynn and Thetford and for the regeneration areas of Great Yarmouth. The County Council's input has been essential to ensure coordinated delivery of transport and community services such as schools and libraries. This is particularly important where significant growth is proposed in settlements which are located in the same corridor but are in different districts. The planning of new secondary schools to serve growth is a good example of where the County's ability to look across boundaries is vital. A duty to cooperate which reinforces sub-regional partnership working would be supported.

September 2010

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Prepared 31 March 2011