With the forthcoming Planning White Paper there will of course be calls for a formal National Plan, or a return to a tier of Statutory Strategic Plans.
Our proposal is to develop large-scale regional plans which are NOT statutory in nature but instead provide an over-arching vision and framework within which local statutory planning can take place.
This approach to regional spatial planning of major infrastructure, promoting economic regeneration and development and securing the future of the environment requires effort, but has been very successful in other countries.
Notably in Germany with the Rhine/Ruhr, in The Netherlands with the Randstad and in The New York Metropolitan area through the Regional Plan Association.
Similarly some counties are pursuing non statutory strategic plans, such as Surrey and Leicestershire, egged on by Catriona Riddle, following the disillusionment of the progress of new style strategic plans (such as West of England and NEGC) and local plans making strategic allocations (such as Uttlesford).
This issue is a difficult one. There is no doubt that non statutory very large scale spatial plans have been successful. Government support and backing of these through endorsing the One Powerhouse initiative would be a very easy step to take, could easily be done through the remit of the NIC, and would begin to make sense of key issues such as for example the linkage between HS2 and Northern powerhouse Rail. We effectively already have a national ‘levelling up’ plan; It just isn’t written down, just intimated in speeches. One remembers the Richard Wakeford rule – never write national planning policy through speeches.
Non Statutory plans can also be material considerations as government policy. As the former RPGs were. The trouble is that they would be covered by the SEA directive (still law), as ‘plans or programmes which set the framework for future development consent‘ or require habitats assessment. It does not matter if they are non-statutory. If they are covered by an administrative process they would be. Consultation and consideration of options would be such a process. Failure to consult on options, if used to provide a framework for consents, would also be contrary to common law – see here.
If a spatial plan provided no framework for consents, either T&CPA or DCO, well what would be the use of that it would be no plan at all?
Even so there would be great advantages in not embodying regional/national planning in Law. The precedents for this have not ended well. I have doubts whether making the London Plan statutory has been a great success. It seems much easier all round for them to be non statutory but formally pursued through an SEA directive compliant consultative process with options.
Of course the reason why strategic plans have been so fraught is the issue of distribution of housing numbers. Whomever has pulled the levers of these has taken the blame for “imposing’ housing on the countryside”. Taking out the housing numbers ought makes them less fraught and simple to prepare, yes, and there is great merit in consulting on an early draft of strategic plans with spatial and infrastructure principles before the final housing numbers per strategic location are decided (of course this doesn’t dodge the SEA requirement). But the issue of strategic distribution can never be ducked. Remember strategic plan exist because some planning decisions have to be larger than local. Under-bounded authorities and other land constrained areas mean that there will always need to be distribute housing need beyond local authority boundaries. Discussions about this under the DTC are always fraught and in many cases held up by ‘awkward squad’ authorities who just won’t play ball; or in the very worst case, as in West Kent, where local authorities conspire to avoid asking each other to allocate for overspill.
At the very least then we need a more formalised system to deal with overspill. Lack of a system has arguably led to a 9 year delay, which looks likely to be nearer a 15 year delay, since the Localism Act, of answering key questions of where strategic sites should go. Given that RPG9 the South East Plan effectively deferred these decisions this extends to a 20-25 year delay. We wonder why we have a housing crisis.
There are two aspects of the overspill issue. The first is between a HMA, the second is from one strategic planning area (such as a major conurbation such as London or Birmingham to its surrounds). For the former I hope ive demonstrated it doesn’t matter if its a local plan, SDS or non statutory regional plan, the requirement for SEA (and to consider options even without the SEA directive) apply. For the latter I see no alternative for the government to issue a broad distribution between regions as national policy, as as policy as opposed to a plan or programme it would not be subject to SEA. I”ve suggested in the past a simple GIS based technique to calculate how to do this.
There is no technical reason this cant be done now, or in stages, as the overspill numbers for London and Birmingham have now been fixed and should be fixed for Greater Manchester by this time next year.
So overall i’d recommend:
- Compatible Corridor and Region Based Non Statutory but SEA directive compliant plans on the One Powerhouse model
- The government endorsing these through an overarching National Policy Statement, including an appendix on overspill housing number per region from land constrained areas
- Functional Region/sub regional plans, whether as local plans statutory policies or SEA directive compliant non statutory plans.
All of the above not requiring one line of legislation. Roll on the White Paper.