Is Strategic Planning Too Hard?

Where are the strategic planning success stories?

In the aftermath of the age of the localism bill a lack of strategic planning was seen as the sine qua non solution to lack of housing and lack of joined up thinking.

You don’t hear that very much today.  There is lots and lost of strategic planning – very little of it is found sound.  Even bigger problem is that of ‘failure to launch’ strategic plans years in perpetration which never see the light of day and which may never see the light of day.  There are manifold technical reasons for this failure, from DTC fails (predictable) to options chosen failing to be found sound.  In some recent cases the big strategic choices were left to the next round of joint strategic planning, such as St Albans and South Bucks, but inspectors had to judge the plans in front of them.  However very few cases of joint planning, with a few notable exceptions such as South West Devon, South Worcestershire etc. have got through and where they have they have carried forward strategies hatched a decade ago, sometimes in the last round of structure plans.

This failure of strategic planning was the subject of my lecture tour when I was last visiting England a couple of months ago and my forthcoming book.  Basically the planning profession has not risen to the challenge of developing new methodologies for strategic planning and has gotten bogged down.  Groups of planners sit in rooms, having spent decades hating each other and are expected to work together like a cutting edge start up, when in most cases they simply have adopted working methods and techniques from small scale local plans.  Predictably it hasn’t worked out well.

The problem has shifted.  It is not lack of strategic planning.  Strategic planning is broken.  It needs to be remade.

West Tey and Braintree Garden Communities Thrown Out at Examination

The ministry required the inspectoprs report to be sent to them first before publication.  Though everyone knows the result.  The falling away of the Uttlesford local plan hit both as the rapid transit solution fell away.  This raises questions over whether North Essex was an appropriate unit for strategic planning.  Now only Harlow and Maldon are progressing local plans, South Essex is going nowhere fast.  Is an Essex Strategic Plan now the only way ahead?  And how do we have a more collaborative process so that plans cannot reach an advanced stage and then be knocked back? A system that takes 5 or more years to examine and process local plans cannot be a good one.

Essex Gazette

PLANS for 43,000 new homes in three new towns in north Essex have been ruled “unsound” by a planning inspector.

Two of the three new towns, totalling 34,000 homes, cannot proceed, inspector Roger Clews has ruled.

However, the third, a 9,000 home development east of Colchester, could still go ahead.

Mr Clews has said the councils behind the North Essex Garden Communities – Colchester, Tendring and Braintree – should remove the West Tey and west of Braintree garden communities from the joint section of their Local Plan to proceed.

He said: “Even if the A120 dualling scheme has a good prospect of being delivered as part of the programme, not to provide the necessary public transport connections from these two garden communities would directly conflict advice the transport system needs to be balanced in favour of sustainable transport modes.

“I find that the proposed Colchester/Braintree borders and West of Braintree garden communities are not justified or deliverable.

“Consequently, the plan’s spatial strategy, and thus the plan itself as submitted, are unsound.”

However, Mr Clews said the financial viability of the third garden community, off the A134 near Greenstead and Wivenhoe, was “very strong”.

He has recommended two ways forward for the authorities – either withdraw the plan in its entirety, or consult on it again with two of the garden communities removed.

Mark Cory, leader of Colchester Council, said: “This decision is obviously a mixed bag for Colchester and north Essex as a whole and one that we will need to consider carefully both individually and collectively.

“This administration believes it is better to plan new developments to deliver infrastructure first, as the councils have been trying to do.

“Leaving it to developers to provide the necessary physical and social infrastructure is not good enough. The inspector does back our approach and has outlined a clear way ahead in his letter.”

Graham Butland, leader of Braintree Council, said: “Clearly the decision of the Inspector is a huge disappointment and one that will adversely impact on the district for years to come.

“I am proud that, together with Colchester and Tendring councils, we brought forward imaginative and far-sighted plans for meeting the housing needs of our communities both now and in the future.

“These plans would have fundamentally shifted the balance of decision making from developers to local communities.

“Unfortunately, the Inspector’s decision means that we will have to consider whether additional sites around our existing towns and villages for both the additional housing and for gypsy and traveller sites will now be required

“This is something we wished to avoid but unfortunately the concept of further urban sprawl is now a real threat.”

The authorities say they “remain committed to the principles that made the garden communities so beneficial to the community”.

Neil Stock OBE, Leader of Tendring Council, said: “We welcome the scrutiny given by the Inspector to our proposals, and while it is a shame that he does not find all of the proposed garden communities viable at this time it is good that he recognises our high standards and approves the garden community method.

A Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “The Government is working hand-in-hand with local communities to deliver much-needed new homes across the country.

“We remain committed to supporting new garden communities and helping these schemes to get off the ground.”