An initial assessment, by researchers on behalf of the RTPI, of a sample of LEP strategic plans which were submitted this week to the government, has concluded that those LEPs benefiting from a history of larger-than-local partnership working, local authority collaboration and/or a policy active business community have produced some of the most credible and distinct Strategic Economic Plans.
Cath Ranson, President of the RTPI, said:
“There is a great deal of work going on across England to bring business and local authorities together to make deliverable plans for growth across functional economic areas. Growth is not going to happen in this country if organisations do not work in partnership.
Naturally, having to produce strategies in a short period of time by organisations which originally were given a modest set of resources is a big challenge for LEPs. We are encouraged to hear of cases where LEPs have commissioned evidence from the planning profession – both private and public sector – to support their cases.
We are encouraged to hear of cases where LEPs have commissioned evidence from the planning profession – both private and public sector – to support their cases.
At the recent LEP Network Conference, there was general confidence that LEPs had travelled a long way from their inceptions in 2010 and 2011, particularly in terms of confidence, funding and strategising capabilities. We should not forget that the first iterations of Regional Economic Strategies, prepared by Regional Development Agencies on behalf of their regions, were deficient in many respects but improved significantly over time. Therefore, it is important to celebrate the positive elements of Strategic Economic Plans”.
Most plans are ambitious and articulate bold visions for growth.
There are some good examples of plans that attempt to provide overarching spatial frameworks for a myriad of plans, processes and investment decisions. Most Strategic Economic Plans have at least attempted to reflect local economic circumstances and spatial dynamics, nevertheless some LEPs may not yet be equipped to plan strategically.
Growth versus other considerations
Environmental considerations are more prominent across the plans than many other non-economic factors, although they have been dealt with in many different ways. Environmental considerations were omitted almost entirely across a small minority of Strategic Economic Plans. A significant number of them fail to fully consider, examine and/or model the social and environmental implications of pursuing growth-focussed strategies. ‘Growth at what cost and for what purpose?’ is a question that some LEPs have not asked themselves.
National planning policy sets out that economic, social and environmental needs are simultaneously considered and reconciled in the formulation of Local Plans. Strategic Economic Plans on the other hand have often failed to address issues of social inclusion/exclusion, and many of them only engage with this matter insofar as it relates to European Structural and Investment Funds. Many Strategic Economic Plans completely ignore the issue of deprivation.
There are some marked differences across Strategic Economic Plans in terms of their planning content and also the degree of sophistication of spatial planning analysis. Some LEPs have worked closely with constituent local planning authorities to consider a variety of planning matters, with some Strategic Economic Plans, for example, outlining schemes with existing planning approvals, those requiring permission and others at application stage. Some of the weaker examples have neglected such planning discussions and their Strategic Economic Plans are more hopeful that Local Plans will help to deliver their aspirations in a timely manner. Some plans refer to the importance of Enterprise Zones as examples of coordinated policy relating to planning, infrastructure and investment decisions. Nevertheless, it is not always clear how ‘streamlined’ pilot systems and exemplars will be mainstreamed.
Collaboration and coordination
Some Strategic Economic Plans place a lot of emphasis on Joint Core Strategies, although these often relate to geographies that are more constrained than their respective LEP boundaries. More so, it is not always clear in Strategic Economic Plans whether the LEP has facilitated improved coordination and enhanced collaboration or whether they have merely benefitted from such joint working.
The analysis is part of a larger, ongoing research project by Northumbria University’s Newcastle Business School, funded by the RTPI. The project is being led by Dr Lee Pugalis and benefits from the expertise of Professor Alan Townsend and research support of Dr Zeb Sattar and Anna Ankowska.
An interim report for the RTPI concluded that LEPs clearly have an important strategic role in supporting investment confidence and championing economic growth, especially through their spatial priorities, support programmes and other initiatives, but their role in the planning system and softer forms of planning remains unclear as they lack clearly defined planning roles. This is further complicated by a situation where the precise role of LEPs is subject to local discretion.