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Report: Strategic planning bodies needed if duty to cooperate is scrapped

Words: Laura Edgar
Cooperation / iStock-1092744152

A new approach to strategic planning requires the designation of strategic planning advisory bodies (SPAB), the key roles for which would be prescribed nationally, suggests a report.

The role would include advising the government on local growth priorities and how these would support national spatial objectives, such as the government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda, and on the distribution of growth, like local plan housing targets.

Planning Reforms and the Role of Strategic Planning, by Catriona Riddell Associates and commissioned by the County Councils Network (CCN), explains that giving this bodies statutory status would “ensure there is a clear and specific relationship between each SPAB and the government, with clear accountabilities, and would provide a more secure process for managing critical planning and investment decisions over a long period of time”, such as through electoral cycles.

Local authorities would need to define the geographical extent of each SPAB alongside strategic partners. This would then need to be agreed with the secretary of state. It is expected that each area of England would be represented by a SPAB.

The report has been published while a consultation is being held on the government’s planning reform proposals set out in Planning for the Future, which proposes getting rid of the duty to cooperate. This is designed to encourage district and county councils and neighbouring authorities to work together on local plans. This includes taking overspill of housing targets that cannot be accommodated.

A replacement to this is not advocated by the government.

Closer collaboration between all parties involved in setting out “long-term visions” for their area would, the report argues, see a move away from “planning by numbers” towards a more inclusive way of planning that encompasses infrastructure, local economies and health. This will be “crucial” as areas plan their recovery from Covid-19.

Catriona Riddell, director of Catriona Riddell Associates, said: “Strategic planning is about more than just sorting out housing numbers or delivering cross-boundary infrastructure. If it is to do an effective job, it needs to provide a mechanism for integrating all the different components that support ‘good’ growth and a clear framework for investment in places.

“The proposals in this report would fill a large void in the current planning system and in the government’s proposed planning reforms, offering an integrated solution to supporting sustainable development across England.

“But it will only work if there is stronger collaboration between the different tiers of government, across the different functions of government and between the public and private sectors.”

Planning Reforms and the Role of Strategic Planning also recommends:

  • All the parties on SPABs would together set out a long-term vision for the area that joins up economic, infrastructure health, and environmental aims with housing. These would pinpoint where growth is to take place and what type employment is needed; playing an enabling role for reshaped town centres and local economies post-coronavirus, while balancing health and environmental factors.
  • SPABs would produce a ‘strategic integrated framework’ – setting out what infrastructure is needed to accompany development in each area, identifying what areas need to be connected to improve growth and create new jobs, alongside addressing climate change issues. These frameworks would then provide a basis for local plans.
  • With councils facing huge shortfalls in infrastructure funding set against projected housing development, a 10-year delivery plan should be produced alongside the framework on how to unlock infrastructure funds: this could be a ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts approach’ by pooling together councils’ resources to unlock large-scale infrastructure projects, whilst enabling more private and public investment due to having a long-term shared vision outlined in each area.

The report says such an approach would see local decision-making retained in local plans, but an opportunity is provided to step back and assess infrastructure and economic needs as a whole.

CCN said it had long advocated for a stronger approach to strategic planning to achieve better placemaking outcomes.

David Williams, chairman of the CCN, said: “With the government planning to scrap the duty cooperate, and coronavirus forcing us to think about the recovery and future for our local economies, there has never been a better time to consider a reinvigorated strategic spatial planning system and this report provides much food for thought.

“We will take these recommendations on board as we respond to the government’s planning proposals but what is clear that if we want to move to an ‘infrastructure first’ approach to housing, then we need the means to bring all key local stakeholders round the table.”

The report can be downloaded from the CCN website.

Read more:

Catriona Riddell: How to replace the duty to cooperate

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