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Focus should be on ‘economic geography’

Words: Laura Edgar
David Caulfield

Planning is shifting away from traditional notions of place as defined by local authority boundaries and towards an understanding of ‘economic geography’, the audience at the RTPI's ‘Current Issues in Planning’ conference heard last week.

Speaking about the work undergone in Sheffield to adapt to changes to the planning system and to gain devolved powers, David Caulfield, strategic director at Sheffield City Council, emphasised that planners have a “unique” set of skills across different disciplines and they have a “key role to play” in Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and devolution deals.

Economic geography

Caulfield discussed the “recent refocus away from traditional planning” which was previously done sub-regionally - in this case at a South Yorkshire level. Since LEPs have been introduced, he explained, “we have had a shift in how we look at an area and a shift towards what I would call ‘economic geography’”.

This, he said, was not just about distance, but about the time it takes to reach places and the convenience of the journey. For example, Caulfield cited the strong links Sheffield has to Leeds and Doncaster. “It’s about understanding how infrastructure and transport infrastructure can impact on how places function,” he said. “Connections between place and the economy are critical.”

Caulfield explained that the introduction of LEPs had accelerated a change from planning for South Yorkshire to planning for Sheffield city region, and that success was dependent on good engagement between the LEP and Sheffield City Council had become critical. Discussions between the two bodies tended to focus on projects determined by economic geography, on how Sheffield City Council could help the LEP make difficult decisions, and on how to invest money received from government.

Work towards the recently granted devolution deal also included creating a strong sense of place in the strategic economic plan, using spatial mapping of investment priorities, developing a 10-year infrastructure plan and going beyond local authority boundaries. Central to this was a need to appreciate how business people think.

Caulfield concluded by saying that planners can influence the “new world” of city regions and LEPs. To do this, the use of language needs to be changed. “It’s about economic geography, economic infrastructure and investment priorities, not land use strategies and plans.”

He added: “We need to think seriously about resourcing spatial planning at the city region level.”


Marcus Bates, senior associate at law firm Pinsent Masons, discussed the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), and Regulation 123 in relation to double-dipping - the phenomenon of using CIL and other planning obligations (such as Section 106 Agreements) to pay for the same thing. Regulation 123 of the 2010 CIL regulations seeks to ensure that local use of CIL and other planning obligations do not overlap, and it places a limit on the amount of pooled contributions from planning obligations that may be used to pay for infrastructure that is also funded by CIL. Essentially, it requires local authorities to produce a list of infrastructure that may be funded by CIL. Its purpose is to provide transparency around what planning authorities intend to fund through CIL and those where S.106 contributions will be sought.

Bates said that when it comes to double-dipping, the “scope of the infrastructure list is critical”, stressing that it is important to be specific about infrastructure to be paid for by planning obligations. General ‘carve outs’ - i.e. requesting contributions for non-specific infrastructure - create uncertainty and can increase costs.

Listing the limitations of the legal restrictions around the use of CIL alongside other forms of planning gain, Bates explained that Regulation 123 does not limit how CIL can be spent and it does not prohibit the use of S.106 agreements for specific infrastructure projects where the Regulation 123 list identifies other specific projects. Bates also highlighted loopholes in the regulations, particularly around ‘salami-slicing’ - taking money for projects over which there is ambiguity about whether what is being paid for is different parts of a single project or multiple projects.

What the local plan inspector needs to know

Malcolm Rivett, from the Planning Inspectorate, talked in particular about objectively assessed needs (OAN) for housing and employment land during a session on what local plan inspectors need to know. He pointed out:

OAN for housing includes:

  • Having an up-to-date SHMA (Strategic Housing Market Assessment), which considers OAN for housing in line with Planning Practice Guidance (PPG).

  • Producing a Housing Topic Paper, or something similar, which clearly explains how the OAN has been formulated. It should cover several things including: Definition of Housing Market Area; CLG Household Projections and affordable housing need.

  • Ensuring that the submission plan aligns with the SHMA/Housing Topic Paper.

OAN for employment land:

  • PPG sets out less detailed guidance than for housing, but the local planning authority is likely to need to assess:

- Employment forecasts;

- Past employment land take-up rates; and

- Labour supply forecasts (natural population growth and migration).

It is key to ensure that assessed need for employment aligns with that for housing within the housing market area and that the plan sets out a consistent vision and strategy, said Rivett. He advised delegates to follow national policy and guidance, but to also make sure the needs assessment reflects, “in a commonsense way”, the realities of the area, and “be ready to respond to requests for further information from the inspector”.

RTPI Conferences is managed by Kaplan Hawksmere on behalf of the RTPI