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THE DUTY TO CO-OPERATE - Localism Bill: House of Lordsí Committee Stage, June 2011

Date: 23/6/2011

Making it work in terms of delivering long term sustainable growth and increasing investor confidence

The Government's proposals for the planning system are aimed at supporting long term sustainable economic growth and increased housing delivery. The effectiveness of new strategic planning arrangements will play a major role in the success of these objectives. At a minimum any new arrangements must:

  • ensure the alignment of priorities and investment plans for strategic infrastructure and other issues that are best managed at a wider than local level (e.g. water resources/quality, energy, waste and climate change);
  • help to maximise opportunities for both public and private sector funding, including the use of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and other potential new fiscal measures to support growth; and
  • provide a clear translation from policy objectives and priorities to delivery on the ground, thus increasing investor confidence.

Although the Government has proposed some amendments to the 'duty to co-operate' Ministers are reluctant to introduce any new process to deal with strategic planning to the legislation. However, the Planning Officers Society believes that there is a balance to be struck between the need for new process and the need to have a level playing field which allows transparency in decision making, full and proper consideration of evidence and options around priorities, and which engages all interested parties. This will be essential given the significant public and private sector investment that will be required for infrastructure and the need for traction between the agreed priorities and delivery on the ground. This must also be underpinned by appropriate governance arrangements to ensure a commitment to the shared priorities, democratic accountability for the decisions and delivery through the local planning system.  

The Government is already considering how to make joint planning governance arrangements easier to implement and is encouraging Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to take on an advisory 'strategic planning' role. A common, high level framework for managing strategic planning and infrastructure investment would ensure that national economic, housing and other priorities were being addressed, and would provide a consistent framework for testing the soundness of local plans in terms of the 'duty to co-operate'.  The Planning Officers' Society is therefore proposing that a requirement to produce a Strategic Infrastructure Assessment (SIA) should be included in the Localism Bill under the 'duty to co-operate'. This would set out priorities over a certain time-period, the process for deciding priorities and funding provision/delivery process.  This would also ensure effective integration and delivery of national policies and help to restore investor confidence in the planning system.

The detailed arrangements and provisions of a SIA and the decision-making process would have to be developed locally to reflect local circumstances, governance structures and partnerships. Additional guidance, including the strategic issues to be addressed through an SIA, should be set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and regulations. All those authorities identified in subsection (1) of the clause would have to contribute to an SIA for their area with most being developed on a sub-regional partnership basis.  Local Enterprise Partnerships, where they exist, should have a key role in advising local authorities on priority setting and in terms of delivery. Although the stakeholder engagement process would be comprehensive to ensure that the evidence base is fully considered, the priorities are deliverable and the process for agreeing the priorities is transparent, it is envisaged that the output would be a simple, clear document which is easily understood by all interested parties and can be translated at the local level. 

Suggested amendments to the Bill are set out in a separte Annex.

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