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Harry Steele: Green Growth Boards and the need to be ‘larger than local’

Harry Steele is the RTPI’s Infrastructure Specialist. This is the latest in a series of weekly blog posts from RTPI planning experts on the Institute’s key asks of the government concerning reform of the planning system

Although I am relatively new to planning – having joined the RTPI just over four months ago and worked in infrastructure strategy consultancy prior to that – I already feel immersed in the challenges and opportunities within planning policy.

Local authorities are facing some of their greatest challenges in delivering upon the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, addressing the housing shortage, leading the post-Covid economic recovery and combatting climate change.

However, whilst the prominence and visibility of planning continues to grow, the system has been severely under-resourced for decades, with local government planning departments having to cope with a 42% reduction in funding over the past decade alone.


Joined-up spatial planning

The challenges local authorities face and the impact of their work goes far beyond their physical boundaries. Local authorities must be brought together to combine their local expertise and align their own interests in order to deliver positive growth for their regions.

In our response to the Planning for the Future white paper, the RTPI proposed the introduction of Green Growth Boards to facilitate co-operative strategies for climate action, infrastructure, housing provision, the environment and other areas. The role of planning and the interlinking of local authorities was also highlighted in the recent Transport Decarbonisation Plan.

We have already seen examples of this joined-up spatial planning throughout the UK in co-operative ventures such as the Oxfordshire Joint Statutory Spatial Plan, Leicester’s Strategic Growth Plan and the Liverpool Spatial Development Strategy. All three of these plans have seen multiple authorities join together to manage their region’s largest challenges and opportunities to help establish a clear direction for their futures. As Leicester’s plan states, they recognize the need to be ‘larger than local’.

The three regions mentioned above are all earmarked to deliver positive growth in the near future as part of the ‘levelling up’ agenda - the co-operation and holistic approach to planning that they have undertaken should be encouraged.


Bespoke regional frameworks

Whilst each plan is slightly different, they all recognise the need to have a core and consistent planning framework. Whether it is the linking of Leicester’s key infrastructure projects (namely, the A46 priority growth corridor, the Leicestershire International Gateway and the A5 improvement corridor) or the inclusion of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc in Oxfordshire’s plan, these approaches to spatial planning are wide-reaching and all encompassing.

The RTPI’s call for an additional £500m investment in England’s planning system would help ensure that local authorities, irrespective of their locations, would have the capacity and capabilities to create these frameworks from which they can establish holistic approaches to planning in their communities and further afield.

Across the board, the RTPI has consistently supported a holistic approach to planning, in which local authorities can create bespoke frameworks for their regions to deliver positive and meaningful growth in these trying times. We are currently undertaking research into examples and best practice for these co-operative approaches to spatial planning and will be presenting our findings later in the year.

Getting everyone around the table who has an interest in investing in place will be critical. We think Green Growth Boards are a good starting point.

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