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Northern Powerhouse lacks joined-up planning, RTPI warns

30 May 2019

Planning needs to be more joined up across the North to bring growth and prosperity not only to major metropolitan areas but also neglected towns and communities, a new report says.

Ambitions for the North”, launched by the RTPI on 30 May in Leeds with a keynote speech by Lord Heseltine, warned that the current “fragmented and under-resourced planning of the North” must be addressed head on.

Entrenched ways of delivering housing and infrastructure through silo working will only repeat mistakes of the past...This is the moment to reinvest in good planning – from the most local level to strategically across boundaries

Several government departments, Transport for the North, NP11, combined authorities and other bodies have together made significant progress in driving forward the Northern Powerhouse.

But the report says their individual plans need to be knitted together into a coherent whole that would direct development and regeneration strategically to break with unsustainable patterns of land use, road-based housing development and city-oriented investment and help to rebalance the North.

An overarching spatial vision for the North

It calls for an overarching spatial vision for the whole of the North of England, supported by strategies similar to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework for each functional area.

These would allow the North to respond better to social, economic and climatic changes and address the needs of settlements outside the influence of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, such as coastal towns and deep rural areas.

This kind of pan-North collaborative planning is essential for understanding the impact of major investment and development on people and the environment, and for communities’ views to be taken into account before decisions are made, it says.

Ian Tant, President of the RTPI, said: “At a time when the North looks set to receive unprecedented levels of investment, we must think hard about how to capitalise on this to ensure that change benefits everyone over the long term. Entrenched ways of delivering housing and infrastructure through silo working will only repeat mistakes of the past. 

“This is the moment to reinvest in good planning – from the most local level to strategically across boundaries - to create not only a prosperous North but greener, healthier, more inclusive and sustainable places that people proudly call home.”

Sarah Longlands, Director IPPR North, said: “IPPR North are delighted to have worked with the RTPI to establish a blueprint for a Great North Plan because we know that planning is vital to putting people and places at the heart of the North’s ambitions. This next stage in the development of a Great North Plan is welcome and it’s important that we continue to keep the power of planning at the top of the policy agenda.”

Ambitions for the North” has been commissioned by the RTPI to explore how to transform the North through better planning across the whole region. It distilled the views of over 120 individuals representing business, academia, planning and development and civic interest, gathered in a series of roundtable discussions held last year.

Need to tackle inequalities within the North

The report calls for prevailing Northern Powerhouse concerns about economic growth and infrastructure to encompass inequalities within the North, high street decline and neglected towns, public health, and the quality of life of all its citizens.

Distinctive northern assets such as heritage in town centres and national parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty should also be better used and integrated with the overall spatial vision.

Key recommendations

  • A northern spatial vision built around sustainable modes of transport
  • Spatial strategies for housing, jobs, infrastructure and the environment covering each functional areas within the North, coupled with new tariff models for funding and delivering key infrastructure
  • A transformational vision for housing which provides an alternative to the government’s numbers-driven ‘standard methodology’ and aligns more closely with the North’s growth agenda
  • A Northern ‘spatial planning observatory’ which provides trusted, open-source data and evidence for collaborative plan-making
  • Local Connectivity Plans which link the delivery of major transport infrastructure to regeneration opportunities and improvements to local sustainable transport
  • An informal ‘place network’ for authorities in rural and coastal areas of the North, coupled with dedicated resources, to foster innovation and collaboration in local planning   

The report has been undertaken by Peter Brett Associates and the University of Newcastle, on behalf of the RTPI.

The full report can be viewed here