Sub-Regional planning required?

Planning consultancy Barton Willmore says that greater sub-regional planning if the UK is to capitalise on the benefits of airport expansion.

Their point is about realising the economic benefit of expansion at either Gatwick or Heathrow – they recognise that the question is still open until the government decides what to do.

They say that the development activity required to support the economic growth that would come from the expansion of the airport will struggle to be delivered using the current planning system.

This would put at risk, they say, the promise of the boost to gross domestic product of up to £211bn, and 190,000 jobs.

Barton Willmore’s report calls for a National Planning Policy Statement to coordinate sub-regional planning across the South East, which could annex the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and establish a new planning body to create a regional infrastructure and housing plan.

Iain Painting, Planning Partner at Barton Willmore said: “It’s vital that we don’t miss this chance to realise the full benefits of airport expansion; significant employment, housing and social infrastructure such as schools, health care facilities and leisure centres are essential to harness the economic opportunity.

“The current national planning process and reliance upon the local authorities to drive cross-boundary working via the ‘Duty to Cooperate’ is insufficient to deliver development on this scale. A new sub-regional plan is the only way to ensure that the whole of the South East and London benefits from this massive opportunity. We need local authorities to work together.”

Victoria Bullock, Director at Barton Willmore, said: “Airport expansion provides a huge opportunity to harness growth across the South East. It will create thousands more jobs, and as our analysis of current commuter patterns into Heathrow demonstrate, these jobs will be spread across a wide area. Through considered planning, the whole of the South East could benefit significantly from the expansion.

“The Government now needs to think strategically about how these opportunities are realised. We call for a radical rethink of planning across the region so that local authorities work in a sensible and joined up way. This is not contrary to the principles of localism. The interests of local communities are best served by a proper strategic planned approach where the competing objectives and impacts can be weighed and addressed and the benefits realised for all in the context of effective mitigation.

“This will require the active engagement with the Mayor of London, London Boroughs, County, District and Unitary Authorities with effective consultation and engagement but with a clear stated national policy. The track record of the UK in airport planning is I would suggest poor. We can’t afford to miss the opportunities presented by the airport and the need to maintain our competitiveness on the global stage.”

The suggestion makes sense. Duty to Co-operate has so far only really succeeded in forcing planning inspectors to tell councils to go back to the drawing board on local plans, it does not seem to be encouraging significant multi-authority collaboration on the delivery of, say, new homes.

One issue is that it could be seen as a return to Labour’s Regional Development Agencies, and another tier of local government and expenditutre, which would obviously be undesirable. The balance between national, regional, sub-regional and local would be a tricky one to juggle, but it would be a great act if we could pull it off.