Jury still out on New Style Joint Strategic Plans

The new NPPF strongly backs the new style of Joint Strategic Plans (JSPs) modeled on the west of England, and we have seen some commenced in Greater Exeter, North Essex  (suffering a setback at examination)South Essex and South West Herts, and Oxfordshire once the current round of local plans is complete (dont hold your breath)  together with full joint plans proposed in places like Central Lancs.

Progress has been encouraging but patchy, though many in the planning profession hailed the West of England plan as the new model it seemed like few had actually read it bar counting the policies and admiring the graphic design, (same I remember with the Stafford LDF) and noticed the palpably unsuitable dispersed pattern of development it proposed as well as the massive undershoot on housing targets.  Despite submission it has been delayed for months to allow more evidence for what is likely massive modifications.

The setbacks in recent weeks to Greater Exeter, and North Essex and the difficulty of Oxfordshire to agree locations to support its growth deal and Cambridgeshire to agree transport proposals to agree its growth deal are reason to pause for breath.

Some lessons

  1. It is far easier if you are all Unitary.  Like West of England, the reason it was first out of the gate.  There are byzantine difficulties, especially with combined authority structures, and where there is a mix of two tier and unitary.  The government in pushing strongly the new style SDS, but these just seem to duplicate and complicate matters where they are not possible (such as for North Somerset for example which isn’t part of the combined authority)
  2. They need proper governance, PMO and funding.  They cant be done as a part time adjunct to the day job, they need a full time executive, and requiring every decision to be done unanimously across half a dozen committees, you can predict what happens.
  3. Take transport seriously.  It is equally important to housing and should drive the housing.  We have yet to see a JSP with seriously evidenced and deliverable proposals for transit.
  4. We have not yet seen a JSP which seriously shapes development patterns (around Garden Communities for example) rather than passively accepting developer led blobs.
  5. We have yet to see a JSP with a serious choice of realistic options for strategic growth locations and lead by an impartial IIA process.
  6. Combined Authority Mayors more likely hinder than help – in all cases where they have intervened hesitating to make tough choices and proposing in some cases like Cambridgeshire Unicorn choices to defer the hard ones.
  7. Despite everything they are still worth doing, they are the only hope for some highly constrained authorities in high growth areas.
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