Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from South East Strategic Leaders

I am writing to you on behalf of the South East Strategic Leaders, a group of 14 county and unitary authorities who work together on issues of joint concern, sharing best practice and promoting efficiency and collaborative working. We will be working with our member authorities to identify issues of common concern for the South East in order to respond fully to CLG’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) consultation, which closes on 17 October.

In the meantime, I would like to draw to the Select Committee’s attention some continuing concerns we have about the Localism Bill’s “duty to cooperate” and whether the NPPF will be effective in situations which require larger-than-local strategic planning decisions. I note these are amongst the questions on which you have asked for feedback for the Committee’s Inquiry.

The overwhelming majority of our members supported Hampshire County Council’s proposed amendments to the Localism Bill, requiring that Strategic Infrastructure Assessments (SIAs) be undertaken as part of the Duty to Cooperate, and for those to be referenced in Local Plans and CIL Charging Schedules. I note that the Leader of Hampshire has written to your Select Committee and we agree with his observation that the draft NPPF fails to fully appreciate the nature of decision-making and service delivery in two-tier areas. We believe that a requirement for upper-tier authorities, in cooperation with local planning authorities and other infrastructure providers, to produce SIAs would encourage sound plans that more effectively take account of the different spatial scales on which infrastructure planning needs to happen.

Additionally, many of our members continue to feel strongly that county councils should be given the same powers as the London Mayor to produce a strategic infrastructure plan and act as a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charging authority. We would urge the Select Committee to seek clarification from Government on how county councils can continue to meet their responsibilities to provide strategic infrastructure, when there is no certainty that the necessary CIL funding will be transferred to them by their districts. Clearly in many areas, strong working relationships exist between counties and their districts. However, in the occasional locality where cooperative working across the tiers is more difficult, we are concerned that the consequences will have a negative impact on local communities. This is a particular issue for us in the South East where congestion and inadequate investment in infrastructure are already a significant problem.

The South East Strategic Leaders are drawn from county councils and unitary authorities. Our membership includes: Bracknell Forest, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Portsmouth, Reading, Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, Surrey, West Berkshire, West Sussex and Wokingham. We also have an affiliate member from the Eastern region: Central Bedfordshire.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011