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

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.

September 2010

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 31 March 2011