Labour is currently thinking about what form strategic planning should take after the next election.
Understandably they are reluctant to reinstitute Regional Strategies (the former RSS) believing sub-regional strategies are the way to go.
Certainly sub-regional Strategies are the primary building blocks of regional planning. They had become increasingly important under RSS and with the Duty to Cooperate they should be just as important now, though the reality of this is taking a long time to sink in. Just as before many cllrs politically felt unable to build on greenfield unless they were told to they are unable now to consider taking more than entirely local need unless an inspector tells them. So instead of eing frontloaded the system has become endloaded again introducing, disastrously, new forms of delay.
The focus on sub-regional planning is sensible. Some areas will only need this tier of strategic planning. Where LPAs cover whole housing market areas (such as Cornwall) perhaps this will be all that is needed.
But there are many case studies that show that even where there is effective larger than local planning at a sub-regional scale this will not be enough.
Perhaps the classic case is Greater Worcester – subject to a joint planning scheme and committee covering the City, Wyachavon and Malvern Districts.
Here the (sacked as Minister) local mp Peter Luff has been increasingly vocal, even going so far as to say that the NPPF will cost a seat at the next election. The beef is that they are still dealing with West Mids Regional Strategy targets, whilst the NPPF saying they haven’t got a 5 year supply (they have its just that local builders wont build it, indeed they would be stupid too when they could simply sit on sites and get more and more permissions to puff up their balance sheets).
As ever be careful what you wish for. The RSS was based on old household projections, the revised RSS based on more up to date projections never went through. Although the joint committee now want to produce their own ‘locally derived’ figure this of course would omit the regional roll that Worcester, together with a range of other larger commuter towns such as Redditch, played in the regional strategy of taking a larger share of growth so that green belt districts and remoter districts with less services and jobs could take less. What Greater Worcester is saying, in effect, in build more on Green Belt districts like Stratford-on-Avon and Shropshire please, we dont want to play a strategic role at all. Given the requirement of the NPPF to consider the role on area can play in meeting unmet needs elsewhere it is difficult to see them getting away with it. They will soon be wishing for RSS back.
Labour, and indeed any future planning minister, should therefore take a lesson from Worcester, if you accept that concentrating development at the best accessible locations is a good thing (Smart Growth) you need a mechanism to produce this when the districts in question are not being very smart.