Written evidence from North East Chamber
of Commerce (NECC) (ARSS 94)|
NECC had serious concerns regarding the process for
establish a Regional Spatial Strategy in the North East.
Housing numbers in this region were overly micro-managed.
The move to integrated regional strategies could
have presented an opportunity to address these concerns if strategies
were sufficiently high level.
The RSS offered some benefits, including avoidance
of wasteful competition between authorities, and ensuring appropriate
land was allocated for development such as renewable energy infrastructure
which often fall foul of "NIMBYism".
NECC has concerns that shifting all planning responsibility
back to the level of the local authority will have negative impacts
for the private sector.
The Government must ensure that neither nationally
nor regionally significant infrastructure development will suffer
planning delays and uncertainties due to changes in planning policy.
NECC had serious concerns about the process required
to establish a Regional Spatial Strategy for the North East, and
the implications this had for the quality of the strategy that
was ultimately produced.
Development of the most recent version of the Regional
Spatial Strategy for the North East took nearly five years to
complete. This timescale, coupled with the arcane statutory planning
procedures involved, acted as a deterrent to business involvement,
resulting in a document that had less input from the private sector
than should have been the case. Furthermore, with publication
coming just before the onset of recession in 2008, it was based
on vastly different economic circumstances, not least for the
housing market, and was insufficiently dynamic to be adaptable
to the changes that took place.
The Examination in Public was a particularly unhelpful
part of the North East RSS process. Changes inserted after the
Examination in Public did not carry any greater level of political
or public acceptability and indeed came in for heavy and public
criticism from a number of sources. Nor did they carry any greater
weight, given the number which were subsequently overturned in
later drafting. This hardly seems to justify the expense incurred
by the public purse, or by other bodies, including NECC, which
took part in this process.
The need for sign-off by the Secretary of State at
various stages in the process also left the region with the feeling
that the RSS was not its own process, and added to delays in development
of the strategy.
Too much micro-management was contained in the North
East RSS, particularly in relation to housing. Building targets
were set at district council level, and remained in this format
even after the North East became the first region outside London
with entirely unitary local authorities. This was unnecessarily
and unhelpfully prescriptive, denying local authorities the flexibility
to respond to specific housing needs and opportunities, and restricting
housebuilders' ability to respond innovatively to market needs.
It is worth noting that there was a distinctly different
dynamic in relation to housing numbers in the North East than
existed elsewhere, with local authorities in this region effectively
competing for a greater share of housing numbers.
NECC was hopeful that the policy of integrated regional
strategies introduced by the previous Government may have offset
some of the concerns about the RSS process, by streamlining development
and tying it more closely to the Regional Economic Strategy (RES).
However, we repeatedly commented that the new strategy needed
to be high level.
Developed effectively, a regional strategy would
be helpful in avoiding wasteful competition between local authorities,
for example for strategic employment sites to be marketed to inward
investors. This benefit would be more achievable when the RSS
was combined with the RES.
An effective regional strategy would also encourage
local authorities to recognise the need for an appropriate level
of development across the region, for example in renewable energy
infrastructure, recognising that the aggregate result of each
authority taking a "NIMBY" approach would be undesirable
for the region as a whole. A sensible process for allocating appropriate
land for this use is therefore helpful, if imperfect.
NECC has concerns about the implications of returning
all responsibility for planning to local level as the two benefits
above may be reversed. While acknowledging the Government's plan
to offer incentives for local communities to accept development,
NECC has concerns that these will be insufficient to change a
"NIMBY" culture which is too prevalent in the planning
process. An over-supply of smaller employment sites in every local
authority area may also present a confusing and unhelpful picture
to potential investors.
On a related matter, NECC has concerns over the Government's
reforms to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC). There
is an urgent need to reassure the private sector that turning
decision-making to politicians will not add new delays and uncertainties
to the system. NECC also believes there is a need for a similar
approach to the IPC to be introduced for regionally significant
infrastructure. With the abolition of regional strategies, there
is a greater danger of regionally significant infrastructure projects
being delayed by planning.