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The UK requires a spatial plan

Words: Laura Edgar

The UK2070 Commission has proposed that the UK requires a spatial plan to guide its future development.

The commission, led by chair Lord Kerslake, highlights that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have spatial frameworks that play a “key role” in helping to shape their future development.

England, though, does not have one – meaning that there is “no common understanding of shared priorities beyond the individual nations”.

The commission says national and sub-national frameworks would help to resolve this problem, “identifying and connecting national economic hubs, providing a firm basis for long-term infrastructure investment, identifying priorities for a new urban policy and securing better national management for the natural and historic environment”.

A ‘Plan for England’ would provide a long-term framework for major infrastructure investment and development. The plan would need to be approved and owned by the government, as well as be linked to devolved nations through a nationwide Reference Framework.

An independent body could produce the plan, which should take into account emerging priorities from combined authorities and bring together existing or future trans-regional or province-level initiatives.

The form and content of the Plan for England “must be supportive and encourage stronger sub-national strategic planning”, adds the report.

The UK2070 Commission is an independent inquiry into spatial inequalities in the UK. Its report says that these spatial inequalities mean the economic potential of the whole UK is not taken advantage of, and that there is an imbalance of wealth and opportunity that creates division and pressures in terms of population growth, housing affordability and overloading infrastructure in areas performing better economically. The commission says there is a “compelling” case to explore these, particularly as they could be widened because of Brexit.

England could be split into four regions when it comes to strategic planning, something the commission wants to investigate to see if this is the most appropriate split:

  • London and the South East: the case for strategic planning is now recognised as a national priority, but identifying the best relationship between the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the wider region will be a key issue. The commission will consult on this.
  • The Northern Powerhouse: these areas show a level of coherence where there is a clear purpose and interdependence, particularly in terms of transport policy and potential environmental management.
  • Midlands Engine: Doesn’t have the same functional interdependence as the Northern regions, but this is changing.
  • South West: the least coherent area, as the Bristol metropolitan area is more defined as part of the greater south east and by its links to Wales.

Victoria Hills, chief executive at the RTPI, said: “The UK 2070 Commission's call for a serious rebalancing of the country’s regional economies through better strategic planning needs to be urgently heeded. The RTPI has long championed the power of planning in tackling inequalities and entrenched patterns of economic and social development. The report we launched [last week] with the help of Lord Heseltine calls for joined-up planning across the North to do just this.

"We need commitment now from all levels of government to channel resources into reinvigorating our planning system to benefit everyone in the long term."

The UK2070 Commission also proposes:

  • Much greater devolution of powers and funding, including the creation of four new ‘super regional’ economic development agencies.
  • Action to harness new technologies and strengthen local economies.
  • Long-term investment through a new National Renewable Fund, which would rebalance the economy over a 25-year period.

Fairer and Stronger: Rebalancing the Economy can be found on the UK2070 Commission website.

Read more:

Heseltine: Devolution in the North is ‘a job half done’

Joined-up planning is required in the North, says report

Image credit | iStock