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Ambitions for the North: A spatial framework for people and places


This spatial framework for people and places is part of a suite of strategies that make up a 'Great North Plan'.

It recommends a more ambitious approach to strategic planning and governance across the North of England: promoting co-operation beyond traditional boundaries, helping cities, towns and rural areas develop sustainably, and ensuring that prosperity generated by the Northern Powerhouse is shared as widely as possible.

As part of a 'Great North Plan', the spatial framework shows how planning can be used to:

  • Help the North of England capitalise upon opportunities to increase its contribution to the national economy, while responding to technological, social and environmental change

  • Provide direction and co-ordination for investment and the conditions for sustainable long-term growth, which benefits all communities in the North

Download the spatial framework (6MB)

View a summary of the ambitions

Read more about the Great North Plan


For more information about the spatial framework, email



There is a well-documented need to narrow the economic performance gap between the North and the South of England. In order to fulfil a transformational economic future for the North, the debate has focused on making key improvements to the skills base, innovation performance, transport and digital connectivity, and agglomeration.

Over the past few years, however, there has been growing recognition that:

  • Improving the fortunes of the North of England is not just about narrowing the disparity between the North and the South, or delivering improved transport connectivity and transformational economic growth. There are inequalities across the North that arise from a complex history of post-industrial decline and decades of under-investment in transport and other infrastructure.
  • As well as creating additional jobs, there is a need to focus on the quality of jobs.
  • A range of wider challenges relating to people and place need addressing, including climate and demographic change, making the North more attractive to graduates and young families, and tackling the decline of our high streets and 'left-behind towns'.

Place-based planning is key to delivering the economic, environmental and social benefits that should arise from transformational infrastructure investment. This requires planning positively for the housing and employment growth that can be supported, a commitment to sustainable patterns of growth, and placing the needs of existing and new communities at the heart of planning for the future.

Various barriers currently prevent planning from playing this full role, including the absence of a strategic vision for the North, unfinished devolution arrangements, fragmented governance structures, and an excessive focus on the delivery of housing numbers coupled with a lack of planning and funding for the infrastructure needed to create successful places.

A Spatial Framework for people and places

This Spatial Framework – which covers the period to 2050 – identifies what needs to be done to overcome the barriers and enable planning to play a wider role in delivering a better future for the people and places of the North. The overarching principles that underpin the Framework are:

  • Spatial planning should be aligned with strategic investment in infrastructure and economic development to deliver sustainable communities and create long-lasting, positive outcomes for people, the environment and the economy
  • The planning system should create the conditions in which we can create better, more attractive places for people to live and work, and for communities to prosper – economically, socially and environmentally
  • The planning system should support and enhance the North's cultural identity, protect and enhance its environment, and increase its ability to confidently adapt to change.

The Framework is non-statutory, and has been prepared in consultation with a wide range of Northern stakeholders. It is designed to work at a pan-Northern level – across the North East, the North West and Yorkshire & the Humber – rather than for a particular local context. The Framework should guide future planning in the North in a way that puts people and place at the heart of the ambition for the North, not just houses and jobs, infrastructure and growth.

The Framework sets a strategic direction for spatial planning in the North to 2050. It does this by proposing a series of 'Ambitions', together with supporting 'Recommendations' that underpin delivery. The Framework establishes a path for future spatial planning within major metropolitan centres, larger urban settlements, and rural and coastal areas. The ambitions and recommendations are designed to work across – and support cooperation between – these different types of place.

Detailed strategies and delivery mechanisms will need to be developed for each of the ambitions and recommendations, and the Framework suggests organisations that could be responsible for each. The current state of governance in the North is complicated, however, and whilst good progress has been made in devolving some powers and budgets to combined authorities, it is widely recognised that this process is incomplete and piecemeal. Some of the ambitions and recommendations can therefore be delivered by existing bodies and groups, whereas others are likely to require new arrangements to achieve their delivery.

Click on the image below to view a summary of the ambitions and recommendations


The spatial framework has been prepared by Peter Brett Associates (now part of Stantec) and Newcastle University, on behalf of the RTPI.


More information about the Great North Plan

In 2014 a number of organisations came together to hold two events in the North West under the banner 'Framing the Future'. At these, participants expressed a clear sense of frustration that, at a national level, matters of planning and economic development were not being given the attention that they deserved, and that spatial planning processes at the sub-national level were fragmented. There was agreement that, in the absence of any serious national spatial plan, the north of England needed a plan of its own.

In 2015 IPPR North and the RTPI issued a call for evidence, and organised 11 roundtable discussions in six northern cities. We also held a Northern Summit in January 2016, with debates and interactive voting. Through all of these activities we asked 'Do we need a Great North Plan?'. The response was an overwhelming 'yes' (93%); and, when asked about their more specific attitudes towards the Great North Plan, 58% of respondents said that, 'We need to get on and do it'.

This resulted in the creation of a Blueprint for a Great North Plan, which represented the best ideas from over 350 people who fed into our thinking. The Blueprint set out a series of principles to guide how the Plan should be developed; identified the suite of strategies that might together comprise the Great North Plan; suggested different planning issues that need to be fitted together through collaborative action; and proposed a process for the next steps in moving from blueprint to plan.

The Great North Plan workstreams are:

  • A Transport Strategy, led by Transport for the North (TfN)
  • An Economic Strategy, led by the TfN Partnership Board
  • A People and Place Strategy, led by the RTPI
  • A Natural Assets Strategy, led by IPPR North and the Environment Agency

The intention is that these workstreams will be accompanied by an overarching vision for the North. The Great North Plan is overseen by a steering group composed of key stakeholders from government and various pan-Northern agencies and organisations.