by Janice Morphet
Whilst the abolition of regional strategic planning has been much lamented in England, there has been less discussion amongst planners about what is emerging to replace it. The strategic plans now being prepared by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are being largely overlooked because they are focussed on funding bids for EU Cohesion Funds 2014-2020 and UK Spending Review Budgets 2015-2019 and don’t have an overt link to the current planning system. Nevertheless, it is possible to see these emergent strategic plans as the first stage in a two-stage implementation process. The second stage is likely to be launched after the 2015 General Election, when the ties between national, strategic, local and neighbourhood planning become more formalised. It is already possible to see this system in operation in Scotland.
Is it worth waiting until 2015 for this to happen or will it then be too late to influence strategic plans that have already been established? Should planners engage now? Is it worth considering what role these new strategic plans will perform? Is critical that planners, from all sectors, engage now?
Firstly some background – where do these LEP strategic plans come from, how will they be developed and will they be democratically accountable? What status will they have? The new breed of sub-regional strategic planning is emerging as part of the implementation of the EU principle of territorial cohesion. Importantly for many places in England, this shifts the EU focus from selective intervention and structural funds to a whole place, spatially inclusive approach. This is set out in a series of information notes from the EU, that are better considered as guidance, as this is the role that they perform. These notes, and the draft Regulations, establish both the partnership approach that is expressed in the structure of LEPs and the strategic plan for the area. As set out in the EU notes, the key features required of this plan are clear – it should be owned by the partnership, evidence based, strategic in its focus, spatial, action orientated with a delivery programme and have a clear outcome assessment framework.
One of the key objections that many planners have to LEPs is that they are not democratic structures whilst others criticise the lack of representation from wider civil society organisations. Both of these are addressed in the EU approach and are now being implemented in England. The Government, in its response to the Heseltine Report published just before the 2013 Budget, has stated that LEPs now have to develop a robust governance structure and have to prepare a plan. These governance arrangements have a variety of names but there are three main options at present. The first is for a combined authority, the second is a joint committee and lastly a city deal, that being established in thirty areas – mostly LEPs. As yet there is only one combined authority in England – that for Manchester although others including Leeds and Sheffield are committed to move in this direction.
However for the majority of LEPs it may take too long to establish a combined authority, and not all LEPs are currently being offered city deals, which are essentially financial and legal inducements to combine governance arrangements. Also, even where there are city deals, a combined authority may not be the preferred route. Establishing a joint committee between local authorities to create a robust governance structure takes a resolution of all the local authorities involved using 1972 Local Government Act s101 – a frequently used approach in local authorities. This joint committee will comprise of a councillor from each of the authorities that is pooling its powers in the joint committee. In the GBSLEP, Lord Heseltine has recommended that this be the Council leaders and that it should be known as the Supervisory Board. This governance arrangement, whatever it is called and however set up, will have responsibility for the LEP and its budget.
A second provision within the Government’s response to Heseltine is that before funding can be given, the LEP should have a plan which is accountable to this democratic governance. Without governance and the plan, no funding will follow. In the short term, this LEP plan is likely to be focussed on the two funding streams available from the EU in 2014 and the UK Spending Review in 2015. But if these plans are to conform to the ‘guidance’ that the UK has agreed within the EU, then there are some other elements that will need to be addressed. Firstly, the plans in their management and programmes need to include civil society. This means that LEP boards will need to be refreshed to take into their membership a wider range of bodies from the voluntary and community sectors. They may reflect la version of local strategic partnerships at LEP level in due course. These groups need to play a full part in preparing the plan and determining its priorities.
Secondly, the plan has to be ‘integrated’. What does this mean? If we consider the application of the principle of territorial cohesion, then this means that it should include main stream funding as well as ‘funny’ money. Here planners have a major experience and skill to offer the LEP through their recent preparation of local plans that express all the local strategies and where delivery is supported though an integrated infrastructure delivery plan (IDP) comprising projects from all the available budgets to deliver the local plan.
The third key element of these strategic plans as indicated in the EU notes is that they should be expressions of Multi Level Governance (MLG). What does Eurospeak mean? In plain terms, MLG means that the plans at all spatial scales need to be in alignment – that is agree with and support each other. We already see this requirement in the NPPF when proposals for national infrastructure projects have precedence in local plans whilst local plans also incorporate proposals from neighbourhood plans. The new strategic plans need to be included within this suite of spatial plans.
This may give rise to problems for many planners not least as LEP strategic plans are not set out as a ‘plan’ within 2011 Localism Act or elsewhere. However, they will be included in EU Regulations and in effect they have a role that will need to be heeded. Some planners might be inclined to wait until this relationship is more explicit in legislation but will that miss the boat? These LEP plans have been submitted in outline last month and completed by the autumn. This is going to move very fast and without some engagement between planners and the LEP team, there could be problems down the line. As indicated above, planners have skills and experience to offer and indeed probably can provide the first draft of an action/delivery programme through combining their strategic proposals and projects from their infrastructure delivery plans for the LEP area.
So what can planners do now to engage in the new strategic planning?
Step 1: make contact with the LEP team and offer to work with them
Step 2: look at TAYplan (which won the RTPI Cup last year) and see this as a useful model of the new strategic planning and don’t worry that the legal framework in Scotland is different – it has been prepared to meet the same guidance from the EU
Step 3: within the LEP area, have a one day workshop to pull together all the strategic projects and proposals that are in adopted and emergent local plans and IDPs to form a first draft offer to the LEP; all LEP plans have to show how they are delivering the UK’s convergence agreement to achieve Europe 2020 and infrastructure is the top priority here so that all these LEP plans will need a strong infrastructure focus
Step 4: undertake a gap analysis between the LEP’s key objectives and the local plans for the LEP area - be open minded to new projects coming in at this stage – worth some consideration in Local Plan reviews for example
Step 5: consider an evaluation methodology for prioritisation of projects and outcome evaluation – here the best approach on offer is the Single evaluation assessment method used by Greater Manchester
Step 6: consider whether the new governance arrangements could be used for a more positive and strategic approach to the duty to cooperate
Step 7: remember that housing is seen as an economic rather than social component of these plans and may be included
Step 8: help to get the plan in on time and demonstrate positive engagement
Step 9: start to consider wider scale strategic planning approaches in 2014 using the joint committee and new democratic arrangements
Step 10: welcome strategic planning back into the tool kit!
About the author
Janice Morphet is a Visiting Professor at the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL and has contributed to the work of the Institute in a number of roles over the last forty years. Follow her on Twitter: @janicemorphet