Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

4  The new planning system

28. The new planning system will be very different from that which was in place before the General Election. The Secretary of State summarised the two major policy pledges of the Government:

There are two policy undertakings: one is the Localism Bill, with which everyone will become very familiar very shortly; the second is the commitment in the Coalition Agreement to rationalise and revise the national planning framework. It is clear that some things need to be decided nationally, and local planning needs to be in a national context. I think it has grown to a size that is out of control […] While the Bill is going through its Committee stage, we will be working with the industry, local government and stakeholders to rationalise this into something that is clear and usable.[36]

In this chapter, we address the challenges that the new planning system must address, including: effective strategic planning issues and 'larger than local' planning issues; Local Enterprise Partnerships and their role in the strategic planning process; local authorities' 'duty to co-operate' and the option of local authorities working together, developing strategic planning frameworks with statutory status; and planning processes for controversial strategic issues, including aggregate mineral supply, sites for Gypsies and Travellers, and waste disposal.

Strategic planning

29. Baker Associates' evidence defines 'strategic planning':

Nobody who has any appreciation of planning, or cares for the issues planning deals with, has ever doubted the need for planning to have local and strategic components [...] Strategic matters can be defined as matters that are very important, which concern more than one authority and topic, relate to extended timescales, and on which decisions need to be made in order to give priority and common purpose to the objectives for an area.[37]

In removing the strategic planning tier of RSSs, the Government wants planning based more emphatically on local choice. How one defines 'local' is crucial, according to the Chartered Institute of Housing:

The need to involve communities in robust consultation processes to set new core strategies and planning frameworks is a critical issue. However, more clarity is needed about what 'local' means in planning decisions, and how potential disagreements in and between communities will be resolved and reconciled in the process.[38]

30. The memorandum from planning consultants Baker Associates summed up a widespread view of the problem:

The wholesome model of people working amiably and creatively on the future of a patch of land within an established community to provide a desirable facility cannot be extrapolated to deal with the housing needs of the country or of less favoured groups in society, and it cannot deal with waste management, energy generation, transport infrastructure or major arts, sports or leisure facilities. There are some matters to be dealt with that arise from and affect wider areas and greater timeframes than are of interest to people acting 'locally'.[39]

31. It is not clear how the planning relationship between the local and the strategic will be achieved. John Acres, Catesby's Planning Director, told us he was worried about the sudden change to the planning system, from top-down policies to bottom-up ones, referring specifically to house building:

[W]e are changing a system completely from what is seen as top down, which is a hierarchical system where there is an overall target, regional targets and local targets, to a bottom-up system that is supposed to be built up from neighbourhoods. I have to say that having worked at every level and with a parish council involved in local planning, it is very difficult for people at a local level to see the bigger picture. At the end of the day, if you are to build up a commitment to house building you must look strategically even though you are local because you have to bear in mind that wider picture.[40]

32. Justin Milward, from the Woodland Trust, used a specific example of the National Forest in the Midlands to illustrate his view that planning should not be devolved entirely to the local level:

I think the local delivery can be enhanced by a degree of strategic environmental planning at a level between the national and the local. For instance, nature conservation is very much informed these days by the idea of landscape-scale environmental planning [...] That landscape­scale is useful to inform local delivery […] The National Forest in the Midlands [...] covers, I think, about 200 square miles, and they have increased their woodland cover from 6% to 18% over their lifetime. Their area covers three counties and six districts and boroughs, and I think it's generally accepted that, if there wasn't a degree of planning over and above those administrative areas, it might not have been as successful.[41]

33. This approach, combining top-down and bottom-up planning, is highlighted by Catesby Property Group:

[…] the new Government's philosophy of community-led planning [...] is a laudable aim, but not an original one. Local participation has been a basic element of the planning process for at least 40 years. In truth, planning must be a combination of 'top-down' advice and 'bottom-up' aspiration if the system is to work efficiently and effectively.[42]

Researchers Graham Pearce from Aston University, and Sarah Ayres from Bristol University, described how planning policies need to be pitched at the right level:

There is no single or right spatial level at which planning policies should be framed and delivered, and different approaches will be necessary to suit different areas. Nonetheless, there are key economic, environmental and social challenges that cannot be met solely through reliance on national or local decision-making, which underlines the need for a form of intermediate or 'meso' level strategic planning.[43]


34. A grouping of 29 organisations from a range of sectors, including such diverse organisations as the National Housing Federation, the British Property Federation, the Planning Officers Association, WWF-UK and Sustrans, wrote to the Secretary of State at the end of July 2010, advocating the continuation of some kind of strategic planning—what it termed 'larger than local' planning—under the new regime:

We wish to ensure that the larger than local planning and investment—which we term strategic planning—is carried out to address the most pressing issues facing the nation such as economic recovery, meeting housing need and demand, sustainable transport, regeneration, sustainable development and growth, investment in our infrastructure, biodiversity loss, climate change, and reducing inequality.[44]

35. Councillor Derek Antrobus, chair of the Greater Manchester Planning and Housing Commission, spoke of the need for such a strategic outlook:

[...] whatever we do we need to recognise the porosity of [local authority] boundaries and to think wider than the individual local authority. That can take a variety of forms. For example, in Greater Manchester, there is a long history of the 10 authorities that constitute the conurbation working together. We also need to be alive to our connections with authorities that border Great Manchester: Warrington, East Cheshire and so forth. There will always be a need to integrate our thinking on spatial planning.[45]

36. The need for strategic—larger than local—planning is no less apparent with respect to house building than in other areas of planning. Miles Butler from the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) told us of his concerns about how local planning decisions on housing will relate to national ones in urban areas:

In a small rural parish the evidence base for providing some affordable housing on a small scale in the community may well be there, and as long as everybody is clear that it is being done for that purpose, I can see it working very effectively without any real challenge to it [...] It is much more difficult to make that work in a densely developed existing urban fabric [...] There is the larger issue of whether the sum of all those kinds of developments will add up to the totality of housing that is required to make the economy work and grow. I suspect that we will still end up with a need for some very large strategic housing sites. Those do not sit in a theoretical space, but in real spaces next to real communities, and that issue will still have to be resolved somewhere.[46]

37. In terms of economic development and the certainty which the private sector needs to be able to invest, the need is not just for strategic planning which covers more than just a local authority area, but for planning which covers a longer timeframe. Andrew Whittaker, from the Home Builders Federation, told us about the house building industry's need for strategic planning:

One of the benefits of regional strategies was that they were long-term documents; they looked forward over a 20-year period, so you could change whether an area was a growth area or a regeneration area; you had a long-term vision for it. I think the threat of localism is that people do not look forward very far. Everybody does it; you do not even know where you are going on holiday next year, let alone how you will plan for your area for the next 20 years. That was what strategic planning was about; it was to take a long-term view. I think that will be quite difficult. […] All we want is clear sets of rules. Our problem at the moment is that we cannot see this long-term vision and clear rules for an industry that invests millions of pounds in long-term strategies and delivery […] Development is not like a water tap; you do not turn it on and off; you have to do a lot of work upfront that takes years and years and costs a lot of money, and it is the threat to that investment that we are quite worried about.[47]

38. John Acres recognised the role for strategic planning, however skeletal it might be, and illustrated the point with an example of how it could be done:

One of the things I did before I came today was to go through the files. I found the strategic planning guidance for both Merseyside and West Midlands that was produced in October 1988 during the period of the previous Conservative Government […] It is very slim—I think it runs to 12 pages. It has general statements of policy and a set of numbers in the appendix. That seems to me to be a helpful intervention because it gives people a clear idea of the general strategy—I know I must not use the word "region"—for a strategic area, i.e. above local level.[48]

39. Miles Butler also told us of the need for a strategic plan in some form:

[…] if the need for planning at a larger than local level is accepted, that will have to be created in some form. We call it a plan. It could be a vision, a statement or whatever. It does not really matter what we call it. The point is that there would need to be something brought about by agreement. The duty to co-operate would be the vehicle by which you would come to that agreement, and the test of whether your individual local plans were sound would be that they were in accord with that agreement. That would be the way you could deliver it without introducing a separate statutory level, but it would need teeth and be recognised; it could not just be a voluntary exercise that everybody could ignore once they had gone through it. It would need to have some bind but be agreed within the sub-region.[49]

40. John Baker, from planning consultants Baker Associates, suggested a way forward which would enable effective strategic—larger than local—planning without recreating the top-down problems of regional spatial strategies:

If we had one level of plan for all the recognised districts we have already, and a very clear, strong and biting obligation on those who make the plans to have regard to the evidence, including the evidence that reflects the role of those places within functional areas, I think we could crack on very quickly indeed [...] We can almost do what we need to do now provided things like some of the key wording in PPS3 stay in place and there is a clear, binding and—as I say—biting obligation on authorities to have regard to the evidence.[50]

41. There is widespread support for arrangements to deal with planning issues that are of strategic importance wider than the scale of individual local authorities, and the Secretary of State accepted the principle of effective planning on this scale. However, when questioned about the perceived gap around strategic planning, and the need to bring planning together in sub-regional areas or between local authorities, the Secretary of State did not acknowledge the need for strategic planning that covered more than just housing. He said:

The duty to co-operate is an important function of local authorities, but this is really about bringing planning closer to communities and the reality on the ground. I appreciate it is comforting to planners but we do not believe that it is a system that works. The suggestion of a vacuum is completely wrong, because we are now moving to a different system. That different system is now in place, in the sense that its principal ingredient is the new housing bonus and new houses that are granted permission will qualify for it.[51]

42. We do not agree that strategic planning is merely "comforting to planners"; it performs an essential role in effective place-shaping and in ensuring economic growth and prosperity. The New Homes Bonus may or may not fill the vacuum in strategic planning as far as housing is concerned (we return to this point later in the Report). What it will not do is in any way fill the vacuum in respect of other strategic planning issues. The New Homes Bonus has nothing to say about renewable energy; about waste management facilities; about minerals extraction; about coastal erosion; about flooding; about water infrastructure; or about any one of a number of other important strategic planning issues previously addressed in regional spatial strategies. Those issues include transport: we note that our colleagues on the Transport Committee have recently expressed concern, in a report on transport and the economy, that the abolition of regional planning organisations and the lack of effective strategies at the regional level will lead to a loss of strategic transport planning capacity in some of the areas where it is most needed.[52]


43. The evidence that we received showed a widespread concern about the proposed absence of planning at a level between the national and the local. There is a real risk of local authorities, individually or in combination, failing to address important planning issues in an effective and co-ordinated manner. There needs to be a way of ensuring effective planning at a larger-than-local level. This does not need to be over-prescriptive, but a statutory underpinning of strategic planning is essential to ensure that all planning issues are dealt with fairly and consistently. We recommend that the Government include effective strategic planning arrangements in the Localism Bill, and that it work with all sectors to devise and promulgate an agreed approach to larger-than-local planning across a number of authorities. The Government needs to ensure a biting obligation on local authorities to have regard to the evidence and to meet identified needs. This obligation should be specified in national policy and in particular, the tests of soundness for local development frameworks. In each case, national policy should highlight the objective, the data sources or assessment mechanisms used to identify the need, and the mechanism for ensuring that each local planning authority makes an appropriate contribution to meeting the need identified (reflecting different environmental constraints, policy objectives or other practical considerations). The Planning Inspectorate should implement these requirements to ensure a consistent basis for assessing plans brought forward at the local level.

Controversial strategic issues

44. The need for strategic planning is particularly acute in certain controversial areas where local people do not want developments that might adversely affect their immediate lives or communities. As Steve Tremlett, a planner from East Sussex, notes, "[t]here are already tensions in reaching consensus on controversial strategic issues, and without statutory regional policy to deliver these objectives local authorities may not have the discipline to carry them out."[53] Councillor Jim Harker, from East Midlands Councils, spoke of the unavoidable element of conflict in deciding on such controversial issues:

In a way, conflict is inevitable, because if you left it to districts to make those individual decisions it would be quite difficult to get things done. You need the element of conflict and debate where everybody has the opportunity to put their point of view, but having somebody a bit more dispassionate who takes the decision is the right way to go about it.[54]


45. Our evidence highlighted confusion among senior officials and Ministers about the new planning system as it relates to minerals and waste. When questioned, the Secretary of State confirmed that the new Infrastructure Planning Unit would take responsibility for minerals and waste management, as stated in paragraph 323 of the White Paper Local Growth. However, when questioned again at the end of the session, the Minister for Decentralisation and Planning Policy, Greg Clark, responded:

We have not taken a view on whether they will end up there. What we have said is that initially for the transitional arrangements while the Bill goes through, the new unit will operate on the basis of the present arrangements, but we will be looking at that and will review it.[55]

Then, in relation to this question and referring her answer to the Secretary of State, Katrine Sporle, Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate, said:

My difficulty in answering this question is that I have not seen the clauses in the Localism Bill. I am aware that the major infrastructure unit is something you want to transfer. I await the clauses in the Localism Bill to see exactly what powers are transferred. It wasn't my understanding that minerals and waste would move from the current jurisdiction because they are covered under development plan work and are already in preparation by first tier authorities.[56]

The Secretary of State then replied:

Can I clarify that there was an error in the White Paper? We are very sorry. We will be seeking to clarify that. It is suggested in the White Paper that this would go to the inspectorate; it's not…To tell you the truth, up to about 30 seconds ago I had no idea.[57]

46. We accept the Secretary of State's comment that "to err is human",[58] and we are grateful to the Department for sending supplementary evidence clarifying the position that the supply of aggregate minerals and planning for waste will, for the time being, remain within local planning authorities and will not move to the new Major Infrastructure Planning Unit.[59] It also illustrates the tension that exists between DCLG wanting to give planning powers back to local authorities—in line with the principles of localism—while, at the same time, rightly recognising that some issues cannot be dealt with at the purely local level.

47. We received evidence illustrating the benefits of the current arrangements. In respect of minerals, the Minerals Products Association wrote about the current system: "The Managed Aggregates Supply System (MASS) has been successful in fulfilling that role for a period in excess of 30 years".[60] In respect of waste, the Environmental Services Association told us:

Regional Spatial Strategies provide direction and context on the urgent need for new waste management facilities and apportion the tonnages of municipal and commercial and industrial wastes that should be planned for, on an annual basis, by each individual planning authority. Planning authorities are therefore required to produce development plans which identify sites capable of managing the amount and types of waste specified within the Regional Spatial Strategy.

The apportionment figures are a key consideration when testing submitted development plans. Regional apportionment also provides a context for the setting of recycling targets, identifying shortfalls in treatment capacity and driving investment in new facilities for the treatment and recovery of waste diverted from landfill.

The broad locations of sites suitable for (sub-)regionally significant waste management infrastructure (e.g. hazardous waste facilities) are identified in Regional Spatial Strategies: a strategic planning function that local planning authorities would likely lack the resources or the political will to perform.[61]

48. The supply of aggregate minerals and planning for waste will, for the time being, remain within local planning authorities. These are matters that reside well with upper tier authorities, although there should also be guidance to them from the strategic level. We are concerned that the confusion that arose in evidence over whether the function might move to the Planning Inspectorate (as successor to the Infrastructure Planning Commission) shows again the unduly hasty approach to reform of RSSs. A body of skill and experience has built up over the years, in partnership forums, to shape planning for both aggregate minerals and waste planning. We urge the Government to retain these arrangements, which have shown themselves to be advantageous, cheap and a means of keeping the anxiety over these difficult planning issues to a minimum.


49. The issue of Gypsy and Traveller Sites also raised serious issues about how planning decisions are made. The Secretary of State announced that "decisions on housing supply (including the provision of Travellers' sites) will rest with Local Planning Authorities without the framework of regional numbers".[62] The guidance gives more detail:

[…] local councils are in the best place to assess the needs of Gypsies and Travellers in their area. The abolition of RSSs will mean that local authorities will be responsible for determining the right level of site provision, reflecting local need and historic demand and bringing forward land in development plan documents.[63]

50. However, there is concern that abolition of RSSs will reduce the provision of sites for Gypsies and Travellers and make it harder for local authorities to share out sites over an area larger than the local authority. Mention of Gypsy and Traveller sites is often met with strong reactions: from Gypsies and Travellers, who believe that they are not being treated equably; and from certain groups that are concerned about the potential adverse effect of the sites on their neighbourhood. We received six written submissions specifically about the impact of the abolition of RSSs on Gypsies and Travellers,[64] and many others referred to the impact of the abolition on Gypsies and Travellers in general terms. The Gypsy Council highlights the inadequate housing provision given to Gypsies and Travellers, based on January 2010 figures:

A central dimension of the inequality from which we suffer is the huge difficulty we have in getting culturally appropriate accommodation. Based on the January 2010 Caravan Count around 21% of Gypsies and Travellers are legally homeless in that they are living on unauthorised sites (land which they own but for which they do not have planning permission) or are on authorised encampments (land which they do not own, including the road side). [65]

51. The Community Law Partnership thinks that these statistics will worsen without some form of central control:

The history of the attempt to ensure adequate provision of Gypsy and Traveller sites (which can be dated from the introduction of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960) has shown that, without some form of central control and central oversight, site provision will not be achieved.[66]

The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain wrote in bleak terms about the future for Gypsies and Travellers:

At the same time as revoking RSSs, the Coalition Government has offered no tangible or credible alternative to resolving the accommodation issues facing Gypsy and Traveller communities. Conversely, it has indicated an intention to give more power to local authorities, despite the fact that local authorities were unwilling to provide sites in the past. It has also chosen to ignore the invaluable evidence base created by the Gypsy Traveller Accommodation Assessments and indicated that it will increase enforcement measures that will only exacerbate, not alleviate, the incidence of unauthorised sites. To add to this the Government's decision to cut the Homes and Communities Agency Gypsy and Traveller Sites grant by 100% has presently put the nail in the coffin of financially supporting local authorities to identify and build new sites.[67]

52. Dr Angus Murdoch summarised this double problem posed for Gypsies and Travellers: stronger enforcement against them in establishing unauthorised sites and no enforcement for local authorities to provide sites:

Unfortunately, the emphasis in the proposed reforms seems to be towards yet stronger enforcement against those unauthorised sites which the under-provision of authorised site necessarily ensures, whilst enforcement against the recalcitrant authorities whose avoidance of successive responsibilities has created that very situation, is ignored.[68]

53. Councillor Derek Antrobus, chair of the Planning and Housing Commission at the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, doubted whether district councils, without a regional body, would make adequate provision for controversial planning proposals such as Gypsy and Traveller sites—or sites for waste disposal:

There are some areas about which I would have concerns. I sat on the regional planning group for the North West. One of the most contentious areas where some authorities were reluctant to allocate was to do with Gypsies and Travellers. That was very controversial. I wonder whether or not local authorities would make adequate provision for that without the sanction of regional spatial strategies. I also chaired Greater Manchester Waste Planning Committee for the production of the DPD. That was also controversial. There were some very sensitive sites. In the end, we recognised it was our duty to provide sufficient sites to meet the requirements of the RSS. I do not know what would have happened if it had not been a statutory requirement.[69]

54. The joint written submission from Eric Avebury, Thomas Action, Alan Townsend, Andrew Ryder and Marc Willers highlighted the need for further action from central government to ensure that Travellers' and Gypsies' concerns are listened to:

An effective planning framework which can deliver the sites needed will continue to require monitoring and direction from Central Government […] It is imperative that the Coalition Government engages with Gypsies and Travellers and listens to their concerns and aspirations. To that end we would urge the Government to ensure that the highly successful CLG Gypsy and Traveller Forum continues to meet regularly to advise the government on its policies.[70]

55. Evidence from the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) made suggestions to increase Gypsy and Traveller accommodation annually, by the Government requiring each local authority to publish its Gypsy and Traveller accommodation targets and completions:

[…] this will help to promote transparency and ensure that the costs of undersupply are minimised […] This information should be collated centrally and published by CLG, to improve transparency and aid monitoring.[71]

56. Under the definition of 'affordable housing' in the New Homes Bonus final scheme design document, the Government includes Gypsy and Traveller sites that are owned and managed by local authorities or registered social landlords, meaning that there will be some financial incentive to local authorities to provide for such sites.[72]

Gypsy and Traveller sites: conclusion

57. Gypsy and Traveller sites are a contentious issue and without a statutory requirement for local authorities to provide sufficient sites, there is great concern that Gypsies and Travellers will not have adequate accommodation and that the new system of planning may discriminate against these communities. This means there is a problem both for those individuals without accommodation, and also for settled communities that have unwanted, unauthorised sites. Urgent action is needed by the Government to ensure that there is adequate permanent and transit site provision to meet the needs of Gypsies and Travellers, by increasing both. We see little evidence that the abolition of RSSs will do anything but hinder the resolution of problems relating to Gypsy and Traveller housing. We support the continuation of the CLG Gypsy and Traveller Forum, but see the need for urgent guidance to local authorities to support them in their new role following the abolition of planning for Gypsies and Travellers at the regional level.


58. Our evidence repeatedly questioned how renewable energy, planning for climate change and other environmental concerns will be addressed in the new system. The RSPB asked "how local authorities will together make adequate contributions to national renewable energy targets".[73] Thames Water was concerned about negative environmental impacts, following the abolition of RSSs:

Our region requires large-scale investment in infrastructure to address urgent environmental needs, such as river water quality or increasing demand for water. The RSSs contained detailed policies on these issues and were essential guides to local authorities when deciding on planning applications.[74]

59. Hugh Ellis, from the TCPA, raised problems concerned with renewable energy and how the country as a whole will know when renewable energy needs are being achieved:

I'm genuinely struggling to see how we do that without some strategic framework that has that dreaded word in it—a target—but if we don't do it and we miss our renewable energy targets, we'll invent strategic planning as a result of the phased withdrawal from the East Anglian coast on sea-level rise, which, depending on which science you care to read, is now a likelihood rather than not.[75]

He stressed the need for a statutory duty for joint infrastructure plans to deal with climate change because "[t]here has to be such a clear signal that it is not negotiable that you can think about those issues, because the overwhelming national interest has to be an effective response to climate change".[76]

60. Renewable energy and investigating and adapting to climate change are key aims of government policy, but they appear to have been largely forgotten in the Government's rush to abolish RSSs. Environmental issues do not stop at local or county boundaries, yet they are issues that local authorities can all too easily postpone. However, local targets, like national and international targets, are an important building block to support real action. Environmental issues need to be considered in a broader context and we agree with the evidence that recommended a strategic approach, with clear obligations on all local authorities to play their part in tackling these challenges. We recommend that the Government ensure that a new strategic framework is developed to incorporate the environmental aspects of planning; that framework should be included in the Localism Bill. National targets on environmental issues such as renewable energy will need to be distributed to each local authority preparing a local development framework, following a period of consultation and engagement with interested parties.

Local authorities' 'duty to co-operate'

61. The Government's answer to the perceived gap between local and national levels has been to urge local authorities and organisations involved with planning to co-operate with each other and have regard to broader considerations, backed by a new statutory 'duty to cooperate'. The Local Growth White Paper stresses the need for proper collaboration between people and groups in order to achieve good planning and notes the Government's intention, through the Localism Bill, "to place a new statutory duty to cooperate on local authorities, public bodies involved in plan-making and on private bodies that are critical to plan-making, such as infrastructure providers".[77]

62. The Minister for Planning, Greg Clark, told us of the changes in the new system:

The key difference is that it is bottom up rather than top down. We have said, it is absolutely right, that where strategically adjacent authorities find it convenient […] to pool their sovereignty, as it were, and have a cross-city approach, particularly to economic development, obviously it makes sense to do so. Another example is my part of the world: Kent and Essex. There you clearly have infrastructural connections, common development needs and challenges around the Thames estuary. Through the local enterprise partnership they have decided to come together to pool their sovereignty, so what you have is a voluntary system that reflects a natural economic geography that is not only permitted but is part of the system rather than the imposition of a regional arrangement that, in the case of Kent and Essex, separated the natural interests between those regions.[78]

63. Although generally welcomed, there was considerable doubt amongst our witnesses as to whether the 'duty to cooperate' would be an effective means of securing robust strategic planning. Criticisms particularly focussed on the lack of any effective sanctions for a failure to observe the duty. Roy Donson, from Barratt Developments, described the duty to co-operate is "one of the great unknowns at the moment"[79] and asked what would happen if it was not adhered to:

Where is the sanction if people do not co-operate? It comes right back to the beginning. In the process we are in, these are all pieces of the jigsaw and we do not have those pieces yet. I would very much like to have those pieces rather rapidly, please.[80]

64. Fiona Howie, from CPRE, also pointed out the lack of clarity in the proposal and the need for effective sanctions:

Just on the duty to co-operate, we believe it might be able to play quite a useful role in ensuring that neighbouring authorities are talking across their boundaries, but we believe that some more clarity or clarification is needed to explain what it really will mean. We're concerned that if it simply means that people, in developing their local plan, just have to say to their neighbour, "Oh, we're doing it. Do you want to see it? We can choose to ignore everything you say and we don't have to try and ensure that they vaguely match up in developing them," obviously it has the potential to be meaningless, so it needs to have some sort of teeth to try and ensure that, in co-operating, people are lining their plans up, rather than just nodding to each other but not responding to feedback on trying to make things line up.[81]

The RSPB also stressed this point, describing its experiences of local authorities failing to co-operate in the past: "conflicts over the shared protection of the natural environment have arisen between local authorities where their respective interests are not aligned".[82]

65. This problem is accentuated when controversial issues are addressed. Rather than relying on local authorities working together, Grundon Waste Management suggested that unpopular, but necessary, developments such as waste management facilities (which serve populations larger than that covered by any single planning authority) are unlikely to secure the approval of any individual authority:

To date there have been no proposals for how 'appropriate co-operation between local planning authorities' can realistically be achieved. For 'un-neighbourly' developments such as waste management facilities, local planning authorities, whose members have an eye on their electorate, are going to pay lip service to any 'appropriate co-operation' with adjoining authorities. There needs to be a more formal arrangement to provide the necessary waste management capacity required to implement the national waste strategy and meet our obligations under European legislation.[83]

66. Even an advocate of the duty to co-operate such as Councillor Ken Thornber, Leader of Hampshire Country Council, told us that: "I am not one to want sanctions but I believe in the construct that there ought to be the reserve power of final intervention by the Secretary of State".[84]

67. The Secretary of State nonetheless told us of his optimism that local authorities would work together, without the need for sanctions to enforce a duty to co-operate:

I think we have a much more optimistic view with regard to local authorities. I pick out the Greater Manchester authorities […] There you have a number of authorities that have sensibly come together to work in harmony on strategic matters. I think that the decision of Kent, Essex and East Sussex to come together will be a force in which they can co-operate together. It is in their interest to co-operate. Much of the structure that was put in before the spatial strategies was predicated on co-operation and worked very well. I am confident that local authorities will rise to this challenge.[85]

68. The Localism Bill provides for the insertion of the following new section in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004:

33A Duty to co-operate in relation to planning of sustainable development

(1) Each person who is—

(a) a local planning authority, or

(b) a body, or other person, that is prescribed or of a prescribed description,

must co-operate with every other person who is within paragraph (a) or (b) in maximising the effectiveness with which activities within subsection (3) are undertaken.

(2) In particular, the duty imposed on a person by subsection (1) requires the person to engage constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis in any process by means of which activities within subsection (3) are undertaken.

(3) The activities within this subsection are—

(a) the preparation of development plan documents,

(b) the preparation of other local development documents, and

(c) other activities that support the planning of development,

so far as relating to sustainable development and use of land including, in particular, sustainable development and use of land for or in connection with strategic infrastructure.

(4) The engagement required of a person by subsection (2) includes, in particular—

(a) giving a substantive response if consulted under this Part in connection with the undertaking of activities within subsection (3)(a), and

(b) giving a substantive response to any request received from a person within subsection (1)(a) or (b) for information to assist the maker of the request to discharge responsibilities in connection with the undertaking of activities within subsection (3).

(5) A person subject to the duty under subsection (1) must have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State about how the duty is to be complied with.

(6) A person, or description of persons, may be prescribed for the purposes of subsection (1)(b) only if the person, or persons of that description, exercise functions for the purposes of an enactment.

69. The language of this proposed provision combines the vocabulary of aspiration and encouragement, which would seem to have little place in law, with vague and imprecise references to future central Government guidance. The courts could be asked to decide whether people are engaging "constructively" and whether their responses are "substantive"; meanwhile, people will have to "have regard to" the Secretary of State's guidance about how the duty is to be complied with. This strikes us as bad law, poorly conceived, shoddily drafted, and opening the door to judges, rather than democratically-elected representatives, deciding on how the planning system operates. "Constructive, active and ongoing engagement" between authorities on planning issues would be welcome, certainly: but there remains doubt as to whether the duty as defined in the Bill will have the effect of encouraging local authorities to work together to help deliver priorities that cannot be delivered within a single authority's area. The Bill does not define a failure to co-operate, does not refer to the resolving of conflicts when local authorities cannot resolve them by themselves and does not specify any sanctions for failure to co-operate.

70. Furthermore, there is no sign of the statutory framework for strategic planning promised in DCLG's written evidence, which in any event would cover only "neighbouring authorities" rather than groups of authorities that may need to be covered:

We believe it would be helpful to offer authorities who want to work together more formally the option of developing strategic frameworks with statutory status. Having an agreed planning approach across neighbouring authorities on issues such as infrastructure, employment, transport or the natural environment will provide certainty for all parties engaged in the planning process and help attract investors.[86]

71. The need for strategic planning at a larger-than-local level has been discussed at some length during debate on the proposed 'duty to cooperate' in the Localism Public Bill Committee.[87] In response to that debate, the Government, in the person of the Minister for Planning, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, has gone some way towards recognising the concerns about whether the "duty to cooperate" will be effective:

[…] I acknowledge the opportunity that we have to strengthen that duty to co-operate, to make it bite and to make it more encompassing that it is. From the amendments that have been tabled to the amendments that have been shared, there is the opportunity to establish a set of changes to this duty that will provide a good basis on which to replace the regional strategies with something that reflects that approach […] I am very clear that there should be a strengthening of the duty to co-operate.[88]

The Minister has undertaken "to return during the Bill's passage with a set of Government amendments with the objective of achieving as much consensus as possible."[89]


72. We welcome the Government's acknowledgement during the Public Bill Committee stage of the Localism Bill that the 'duty to cooperate' needs to be strengthened. Many of those who are involved in the day-to-day business of making plans work fear that a duty to cooperate becomes meaningless without a statutory framework of the sort promised in the Department's written submission to us, but which has so far failed to emerge. As drafted, the 'duty to cooperate' will not be a panacea for the absence of effective strategic planning and will not achieve the co-ordination necessary to address the controversial strategic issues to which our witnesses have drawn attention. There are already examples of where local authorities co-operate successfully; the test of the duty will be where there is reluctance of local authorities to cooperate. We look forward to the Government bringing forward amendments to the Localism Bill which will provide a framework for local authorities to work within, outlining what actions local authorities should take in their duty to cooperate, how they measure success or failure, how parties may insist on the delivery of what has been agreed, and default options if there is inadequate cooperation.


73. Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are to be partnerships between local authorities and businesses based on economic regions. These partnerships are intended to encourage local authorities and businesses to work together to support their local economies:

We are encouraging a wide range of ideas but we anticipate that local enterprise partnerships will comprise both local authorities and business with a prominent business leader chairing the board. We also expect that partnerships will reflect the natural economic geography of the areas they serve—covering the real functional economic and travel to work areas—rather than existing administrative boundaries. Partnerships will want to provide strategic leadership in setting local economic priorities and creating the right environment for business and growth by tackling issues such as planning, housing, local transport, employment, enterprise and the transition to low carbon economy. This suggests a close relationship with any strategic planning frameworks that are brought forward, particularly in terms of local economies.[90]

74. The reference to planning as one of the issues that local enterprise partnerships would tackle—and the absence of any other frameworks for strategic planning—led many to assume that LEPs would be the vehicle for the larger-than-local planning and cooperation between local authorities, the need for which we discuss above. However, notwithstanding the fact that LEPs appeared to be, as one of our witnesses put it, "the only show in town",[91] the evidence presented to us expressed considerable scepticism about whether they were the appropriate means of ensuring effective strategic planning.

75. Since submitting its written evidence, the Government has published its White Paper, Local Growth, which highlights the Government's view of LEPs, their non-statutory basis, and their fluid constitutional and legal nature, depending on which area they are covering:

The Government does not intend to define local enterprise partnerships in legislation. Governance structures will need to be sufficiently robust and clear to ensure proper accountability for delivery. Partnerships will differ across the country in both form and functions in order to best meet local circumstances and opportunities. A partnership may need legal personality or a specified accountable body in some circumstances such as if it wished to own assets or contract to deliver certain functions. The constitution and legal status of each partnership will be a matter for the partners, informed by the activities they wished to pursue.[92]

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee's report The New Local Enterprise Partnerships: an Initial Assessment, published in December 2010, explores the structures, functions and accountability of LEPs.[93]

76. Witnesses raised four main objections to LEPs as strategic planning bodies. The first and perhaps most fundamental is that they lack democratic accountability. The West Midland Regional Sustainability Forum summed up the concerns of many when it argued "LEPs should not be given any planning powers once held by regional and local government as it risks undermining the notion of a planning system that is democratically accountable and able to integrate environmental, social and economic concerns".[94]

77. The need for planning to integrate environmental, social and economic concerns leads us to the second principle objection, which is that local enterprise partnerships, as illustrated by their very name, are economically based. As Colin Haylock from the RTPI told us:

[…] simply built into the title of LEP is the suggestion that it's primarily about economic issues. We can't ignore the fact that economic issues are incredibly important, but planning is trying to deal with economic success alongside dealing with a series of other issues, trying to effect the right sort of balance between economic performance and environmental performance, trying to produce genuinely sustainable, socially sustainable communities. The suggestion then is that, if this is replacing any form of strategic planning, it has to have that breadth of dimension.[95]

78. Thirdly, there is the non-statutory and intentionally voluntary nature of LEPs. John Acres, from Catesby, argued

[…] if we have LEPs making key decisions in what is a quasi-judicial process, i.e. planning, where you make legal decisions that have an impact and people appeal against them, you must rely on policy when you appeal. What status can you give the policy of a LEP that has no powers as such?[96]

79. Finally, linked with the voluntary and non-statutory nature of LEPs, there is the fact that LEPs do not, and presumably will not necessarily, cover the whole country: some areas are not covered by a LEP, whilst others are covered by more than one. Strategic planning, if it is to be both fair (in taking account of the needs and preferences of all affected communities) and effective, needs to be undertaken on a much more consistent basis.

80. The proper role for LEPs in planning emerges slightly more clearly from the Planning Minister's evidence to us about how LEPs will function:

[...] part of their ambition and their purpose in coming together is to be able to have joint strategies, to favour economic development and say to outside investors that if they come to their areas they will have a planning regime and system for processing planning applications that is certain, dependable and professionally organised. That is one of the ways in which they will present themselves to the world. In some of the more rural areas they have different priorities, but it is open to all of them to pool sovereignty in that way.[97]

81. We support the concept of local partnership arrangements to which local enterprise partnerships are giving effect. Nevertheless, we are pleased that the Government has not advocated giving planning powers to LEPs. LEPs are not under any compulsion to consider environmental or social issues or to consider the multitude of interests that concern planning. Their primary purpose is 'enterprise', which as an advocacy function cannot sit comfortably with statutory democratic regulation. Local authorities and others need to work with LEPs, and to have regard to them in preparing their local development frameworks and when deciding planning applications; for their part, LEPs should demonstrate a responsibility for achieving sustainable development. However, LEPs are not a suitable vehicle for strategic planning.

36   Q 270 Back

37   Ev 76 Back

38   ARSS 135, Chartered Institute of Housing, para 3.6 Back

39   Ev 76 Back

40   Q 177 Back

41   Q 144 Back

42   Ev 114 Back

43   ARSS 60, Aston and Bristol University, para 2.2 Back

44   http://www.rtpi.org.uk/item/3937 Back

45   Q 241 Back

46   Q 66 Back

47   Q 176 Back

48   Q 179 Back

49   Q 70 Back

50   Q 15 Back

51   Q 277 Back

52   Transport Committee, Third Report of Session 2010-11, Transport and the economy, HC 473, para 105.  Back

53   ARSS 6, Steve Tremlett, p6 Back

54   Q 246 Back

55   Q 336 Back

56   Q 335 Back

57   Qq 337 and 338 Back

58   Q 337 Back

59   Ev 152 Back

60   ARSS107, Mineral Products Association, p1 Back

61   ARSS 88, Environmental Services Association, paras 7-9 Back

62   See footnote 21. Back

63   See footnote 23. Back

64   ARSS 27, Community Law Partnership, ARSS 50, Dr Angus Murdoch, ARSS 54, Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, ARSS 55, The Gypsy Council, ARSS 56, Eric Avebury et al and ARSS 71, BSHF. Back

65   ARSS 55, The Gypsy Council, p2 Back

66   ARSS 27, Community Law Partnership, p3 Back

67   ARSS 54, Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, p2 Back

68   ARSS 50, Dr Angus Murdoch, p9 Back

69   Q 244 Back

70   ARSS 56, Eric Avebury et al, p3 Back

71   ARSS 71, BSHF, p8 Back

72   http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/housing/pdf/1846530.pdf Back

73   ARSS 122, RSPB, para 4 Back

74   ARSS 143, Thames Water, para 6 Back

75   Q 109 Back

76   Q 105 Back

77   http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/economic-development/docs/l/cm7961-local-growth-white-paper.pdf, paragraph 3.2.1. Back

78   Q 280 Back

79   Q 215 Back

80   Q 215 Back

81   Q 150 Back

82   ARSS 122, RSPB, para 5 Back

83   ARSS 96, Grundon Waste Management, para 3.2 Back

84   Q 242 Back

85   Q 283 Back

86   Ev 151 Back

87   Localism Public Bill Committee, 13th and 14th sittings (15 February 2011), cols 547ff Back

88   Localism Public Bill Committee, 14th sitting (15 February 2011), cols 599, 601 Back

89   Ibid., col 600 Back

90   Ev 152 Back

91   Q 234 Back

92   http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/economic-development/docs/l/cm7961-local-growth-white-paper.pdf, page 14 Back

93   First Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Session 2010-11 (HC 434), The New Local Enterprise Partnerships: an Initial AssessmentBack

94   ARSS 17, West Midlands Sustainability Forum, p3 Back

95   Q 88 Back

96   Q 215 Back

97   Q 288 Back

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