David Bainbridge, Bidwells, asks if we have just taken a step towards sub-regional planning.
Described by many as evolutionary and not revolutionary, the consultation draft of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) may give rise to the law of unintended consequences, or it might mark a deliberate new step towards sub-regional planning.
The NPPF and associated documents published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, will continue to be debated long after the 10th May deadline for comments as its reach is far and wide and not yet fully understood.
The context was set by the Housing White Paper, Fixing our Broken Housing Market and the Autumn 2017 Budget. The Government chose to explain how the housing market in England is broken and what steps they would take to fix it. The planning system is rightly seen as one of the constraints to delivery and one of the tools to achieve delivery of the right homes, in the right places and at the right pace.
Guidance on preparation of local plans has been given increased emphasis in the document, marking out the Government’s commitment to decisions on planning applications and planning appeals being taken in the context of strategic planning. It is this emphasis which may give rise to unintended consequences.
The policy guidance and recent decisions aligned to government funding points to more strategic planning for the first time since the dismantling of regional planning by the coalition Government in 2010.
The plan-making framework includes strategic priorities which cut across local planning authority areas and points towards future sub-regional strategy.
Authorities in Oxfordshire have agreed to prepare a joint statutory spatial plan covering strategic matters to the year 2050 across the entire County. It is inevitable that this will influence the amount of new housing and location for new housing at the district level.
Beyond County boundaries, an increasing number of planning authorities are co-operating on spatial planning where there is logic based on housing market areas and infrastructure. The Government is encouraging this and rightly so.
The £15.8m Planning Delivery Fund was announced in February and includes generous amounts for various local authorities to aid planning reform and improvements in performance. Most of the funding is for joint working across planning authority areas, which links directly with the aspiration for more strategic planning whilst continuing to avoid reference to regional planning.
The quest for innovation, efficiency and improved performance in part led to the announcement of support and intent by the Secretary of State for the creation of a unitary authority in Buckinghamshire.
Although locally-led initially this will see the five local authorities becoming one. It is no coincidence that this is being pursued in an area with a population of close to 550,000 and difficulty assessing and agreeing on housing growth and infrastructure.
Bedfordshire and Cheshire went through this change in 2009 and others seem likely to follow the move to unitary status.
A move towards sub-regional planning is not new, as growth taking place now and still to be delivered has origins in the Milton Keynes and South Midlands Sub-Regional Strategy published in 2005 by the now defunct Government Offices for three regions.
Co-operation beyond local authority boundaries is needed if the Government objective to deliver one million new homes in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor is to be realised. Where people choose to live, work and play is not restricted to local authority areas and hence the planning delivery fund and more strategic plan-making should be put to good use.
David Bainbridge, MRTPI, is the Divisional Managing Partner of Planning at Bidwells, responsible for a team of 65 people with skills in planning, urban design, EIA and heritage. With 18 years’ planning experience, he has successfully delivered planning permission and land allocations for residential, industrial, leisure and mixed-use developments. David is a former Chair of the East Midlands Royal Town Planning Institute, having qualified in 1999.
For more information visit www.bidwells.co.uk