Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by North West Regional Assembly (PGP 12)


  The Assembly consider that its response to the Select Committee should address issues at three levels—national, regional and sub-regional. These are set out below.


  The Assembly supports the streamlining and reviewing of national planning policy and suggests that this provides opportunity for a clearer focus to national policy and therefore giving it more strength and clarity and less opportunity for (mis)interpretation, whilst allowing the ability for greater flexibility of interpretation at regional level. The Assembly also suggests the need for clearer guidance and best practice to support this process.

  The Assembly suggests that within a radical review of the planning system the opportunity to set out a national spatial development framework should be explored. There is a need for a national spatial development framework to:

    —  address the issues of regional disparities;

    —  safeguard the national infrastructure;

    —  influence where the market operates at a national level;

    —  address development choices between regions, for example economic development and housing; and,

    —  integrate polices of agencies and local government

  The preparation of such a strategy would move closer to the systems in other parts of Europe and would assist in addressing major cross boundary and transnational issues.


  The Assembly is supportive of the strengthening of planning system at the regional level and encouraged by the status and priority that is to be given to "statutory" regional spatial strategy (RSS). Following on from this elected Assemblies, when in place, should have power to approve RSS.

  The Assembly welcome the move towards RSS and recognise the need for RSS to be more comprehensive than existing RPG. This will have implications for many regions (perhaps less so for the North West); currently approved RPG will require considerable more development to become a fully-fledged RSS. This will require more resources directed to the Regional Planning Body/Assembly to carry out the development and implementation of RSS.

  The Assembly as RPB consider that it has already embraced many of the issues identified in the Green Paper in its development and review of RPG for the North West. Many of the processes and structures put in place to undertake the review of RPG are already "Green Paper friendly"—the balance and membership of the Regional Planning Body and the Key Priority Group is made up of local authority and economic and social partner representation; and, there was a wide and embracing stakeholder involvement/consultation process. In setting out a project plan for the review of RPG/RSS the Assembly proposes to develop project reference groups, led by economic or social partners, to help implement this review of RPG as it moves to become an RSS. An example of this will be the development of a regional waste strategy building on the recent the RTAB consultation on the "Waste Management Technical Report". The intention is that this work will be informed by a waste project reference group, which will report the Regional Planning Body.

  Regional Planning Guidance in the North West was prepared in a transparent and inclusive way and the North West Regional Assembly is determined to keep it this way. The North West was the first English region to have undertaken a complete review of Regional Planning Guidance in accordance with the new framework set out by the Government in the then draft PPG11. Throughout the process the Assembly had been keen to ensure that the review was conducted in an open, inclusive and transparent manner; to that end the Assembly within the prescribed 18 months time period, carried out three major consultation exercises. Two of these, on Issues and on Strategic Options, involved full public consultation. The third, carried out in 2000, was a targeted exercise to elicit views of key regional stakeholders from the public, private and voluntary sectors on an interim draft. At all stages the Assembly liaised closely with colleagues in the Government Office for the North West and thank them for their valuable assistance. It was not always easy to strike a balance between the diverse and robust views expressed by people and organisations in the region about the preferred future directions of growth and change in the North West. Hard choices were made so that draft RPG fulfils its role without being a "lowest common denominator". In particular the Assembly had regard to the North West Development Agency's Regional Strategy and their expressed views in arriving at the draft RPG, which was submitted to the Secretary of State.

  Length, style and coverage issues were explicitly considered by the Assembly in its drafting of RPG, and by the Panel, and the approach established in draft RPG for North West was generally supported by the latter.

  Inspector reports to LDF's will be binding but Panel Reports to RSS will not necessarily be binding on the Secretary of State. This anomaly should be addressed. There are possibly two options which could be considered:

    —  Either the Panel Report is binding on the Secretary of State which would considerably speed up the process (equally there should be commitment and expectation of the Secretary of State to meet similar demanding timescales that are expected from RPB's in their drafting or RPG); or

    —  There is a clear role for RPB's to take account of the Panel Report in their redrafting of a revised RPG (this may be done in agreement with the Government Office) prior to submission to the Secretary of State.

  The Assembly would support the latter approach and which could be carried out within an agreed timescale.

  On a different note there is a clear and positive role for the Regional Planning Body, in implementing RPG/RSS, to be a consultee on LDF and other spatial strategy, as well as on major planning applications.


  There is a lack of clarity on sub-regional strategies, how they will work, resourcing them and whether they should be statutory or not. Similarly, the Green Paper is silent on inter-regional working—this may be addressed through sub-regional working.

  Structure planning is no longer considered by the Government to be the appropriate level at which to undertake strategic planning work and county areas no longer tie-in with the sub-regional focus which is already an integral part of draft RPG for the North West. In deed, as draft RPG demonstrates the exploration of a set of issues and determination of a set of outcomes for those issues at a sub-regional level does not require a different sets of principles for each sub-regional area, but a different programme of delivery. This is a critical determinant in the core strategy and spatial development framework of draft RPG for the North West.

  The Assembly has recently received more indications from Government on the respective role for regions, sub-regions and districts (see the transcript of a recent speech by Lord Falconer—BURA Event, 7 March 2002). This indicates an approach very similar to that set out in current draft RPG with functional sub-regions based around the Mersey Belt and Regeneration Priority Areas and areas such as the Coast, Chester and its relationship with North East Wales and, the Merseyside/Halton green belt. These latter issues are to be addressed in a partial review of RPG.

  There is clearly a need for RPBs to take the lead through RSS in identifying and co-ordinating the preparation of these sub-regional strategies and these should not simply be seen as a replacement for structure plans. Some initial discussions with representatives from DTLR indicate that RPG/RSS should, for example, establish the need for sub-regional strategies. Then RPB may set a brief, convene the appropriate group and contract the work. The resulting policies and proposals that emerge will need to be reflected in RPG/RSS.

  In summary the Assembly would wish to support those concerns raised by the North West Regional Review Group which recently conducted its own select committee style hearing in to the Planning Green Paper. Regional Review has made a separate submission to this Select Committee. However the key points include:

    —  The need for national spatial development framework;

    —  The need for fewer clearer national planning polices which will be key to delivering plans at regional and local level;

    —  There was general acceptance of the role of statutory planning at the regional level but there was a degree uncertainty at the appropriate way forward below this level.

  More generally there is concern for the need for the quality of decision making to continue to improve and to be consistent but with the recognition that this requires increased resources and training of planners and members. Equally, there was concern at the need to define a more workable process—which provides speedier decision making to meet the requirements of business while providing for greater opportunity for community participation.

March 2002

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