After Growth Deals

As we reported last week the Ministry is against future growth deals of the type we have seen in Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire and Manchester.

This will be a crushing disappointment to partnerships in many parts of the country who have been desperate to have them, though it clearly won’t be the end of infrastructure funding.

Why has the mood shifted.  There is a lot going on:

  • The deals have not led to increased housing targets.  They simply underscored the figures in SHMAs which under the old NPPF were not centrally set.  Under the new NPPF they are and so under the new NPPF a sceptical Treasury at the time of a comprehensive spending review could argue have they led to allocation of a single additional house.  On the other hand the growth deal is the only reason South Oxfordshire for example after the last local election s hasnt pulled out already.  Compare to example to Uttlesford where there is there is no such incentive.  The real issue here is incentivising partnerships to bring forward development plans at aal.
  • The  post NPPF strategic planning system when aligned to the governance of functional city regions has become spectacularly complicated.  Lets remember combined authorities and elected city mayors were created for political reasons to undermine existing political structures, which is what they have done with highly variable results, putting back strategic planning because of differing agendas with districts and counties in places like Cambrkidgeshire and Teeside, and bring it forward through sheer technocratic efficiency.  In Yorkshire the desire for regional expression conflicted with the Treasuries desire to sort things out at a functional city region level.
  • The incentive of growth deals has not been strong enough to overcome the local political difficulties and rivalries in areas where this has held back strategic planning, like Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire.
  • The local elections have seen the rise of anti growth candidates which have seen ‘growth deals’ as the enemy.  Future financial settlements need to be more broadly based, particularly in term of the need to enhance natural capital a vital component of a zero carbon economy.
  • The growth deals have not answered the 64,000 dollar question, how to deal with the 40,000 units per year shortfall and implied overspill in terms of housing numbers from Greater London.
  • None of the new joint strategic planning areas have consulted on potential choices of locations for Garden Communities.  (North Essex proposed them but came legally unstuck in not presenting reasonable alternatives.)   So a skeptic would ask what is being achieved to hit the national 300k a year target, growth deals or not?

A future communities secretary (which Gove is now lobbying for) will face a mass of political decisions about to incentivise and push forward how to achieve the 300k target.  Perhaps the move to zero carbon by 2050 will provide a catalyst to a bold new approach.  Formal strategic planning authorities are unlikely however a formalised system of stick and carrot to deliver strategic plans, including apportionment of London overpill, is more likely, linked to clear targets, fixed dates and hard penalties.  The delivery of plans should be seen much like planning performance agreements for planning applications in the context of the Accelerating Planning Green Paper.

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