The Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government (Eric Pickles): “Today I am making the first step to deliver our commitment in the coalition agreement to “rapidly abolish Regional Spatial Strategies and return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils”, by revoking Regional Strategies.
Regional Strategies added unnecessary bureaucracy to the planning system. They were a failure. They were expensive and time-consuming. They alienated people, pitting them against development instead of encouraging people to build in their local area.
The revocation of Regional Strategies will make local spatial plans, drawn up in conformity with national policy, the basis for local planning decisions. The new planning system will be clear, efficient and will put greater power in the hands of local people, rather than regional bodies. Continue reading
Prior to next week’s Emergency Budget, Chief Secretary Danny Alexander has just made a special announcement on cuts made to spending agreed since the beginning of the year. Amongst the high-profile programmes, loans and capital projects being axed are the Local Authority Leaders’ Boards.Although not its only raison d’etre, the Boards’ disappearance isn’t particularly surprising following the abolition of Regional Strategies, which they were to collaborate on with Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). Although its early days in the Cameron Government, it’s clear that regional tier organisations are being swept away pretty rapidly. leaving questions on the fate of RDAs and the Government Office network. The Conservatives have spoken approvingly of local authority collaboration in the past, but this announcement signals a further step towards the dismantling of the regions which have formed the? framework for collaboration under Labour.
Put simply, authorities can collaborate in whatever way they wish…but must find the funds themselves.
The most immediate impact of the new government on sub-national climate policy is via changes at CLG rather than in climate change policy itself. Abolition of Regional Strategies appears to represent a big change in approach from Labour’s development of regional policy as a kind of meso-level to link the local and national.There are implications for the making and implementation of policy and for organisations within the region; East Midlands Councils are the most immediately affected, winding down their strategy function possibly as soon as the end of June.?
Both the coalition parties have shown antipathy towards regional government so the dismantling of one of its key functions is perhaps unsurprising, particularly within the context of the cuts required in the next Spending Review. However, the Strategies’ abolition is noticeable for its speed, and raises interesting questions of how climate policy will proceed.
UPDATE: The full coalition agreement has been issued today. On renewable energy, there are promises of a grid to support the development of offshore wind power and promotion of a “huge” increase in anearobic digestion energy. As in the earlier agreement, there is no mention of onshore wind farms. The national renewables target is likely to be increased following advice from the Climate Change Committee.
Regional Spatial Strategies will be abolished “rapidly”, and the Infrastructure Planning Commission will be replaced with a new “democratically accountable” body for major projects. Only one wind farm currently in planning for the East Midlands falls into this category
Yesterday’s announcement of the government’s Big Society programme has removed some of the uncertainty around the Coalition’s local government policy; the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats look set to roll back many of the changes resulting from New Labour’s 2007 Sub National Review. The ?Building the Big Society? document commits government to abolishing the Regional Spatial Strategy and removing planning responsibilities from Regional Development Agencies. This rolls back measures introduced in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 requiring Regional Development Agencies and? Local Authority Leaders? Boards to prepare an Integrated Regional Strategy, bringing together the existing Spatial and Economic Strategies.
It?s early days to know exactly how this will be implemented, but it seems fair to suggest that the Cameron Government is looking to cut back on the regional tier; the Conservatives? ?Control Shift? (2009) policy paper contained an entire section entitled ?Removing Regional Government?:
What might this mean for renewable energy, a significant part of sub-national climate change policy? As mentioned in a previous post, the Conservatives are keen to let the market decide on the mix of energy supplies within a framework of incentives set by government.
Wind has been earmarked as the energy source with greatest potential to contribute to the East Midlands? renewable energy target which local authority planners must currently give consideration to. However, if regional energy targets are scrapped, local authorities may have little incentive to grant planning permission in the face of often vocal and motivated opposition. Power generation sites are not included in the emissions calculations for NI186 which measure many authorities? performance on climate change.?? Any govenrment incentives would have to take these issues into account if wind energy is going to remain a key part of renewable energy growth. (It is worth noting again that the only renewable enrgy source refered to within the initial coalition agreement is anaerobic digestion.)
The Big Society programme marks the new government?s first steps in addressing a fundamental issue which goes to the heart of sub-national climate policy: how best to balance national priorities with greater devolution of power to local authorities. The current approach of regional scale planning to meet regional energy targets appears to be heading towards the exit. If the regional link is to disappear, the challenge for government is reconciling the national renewables target of 15% by 2020 with local accountability and environmental concerns.