Getting to grips with planning law and with neighbourhood planning … New books in our library

Anyone who reads our blog will know that our research team care about supporting the use of evidence in practice, whether that’s in social services, in housing, or in planning. And one of the unique resources we have to help do this is our very own library!

Created over forty years, there are more than 60,000 books and reports in the library collection, as well as hundreds of different journal titles. Our members can borrow any book from our collection via a postal loan service – offered free as part of the organisational membership subscription to our Idox Information Service.

While quick reads – such as the briefings written by our own team – will always be popular given the pressures on people’s time, there’s still a place for real books. Many organisations use membership of our service as a way to support their staff’s CPD – whether that’s informal personal development or supplementary support for staff doing formal courses or degrees.

Supporting professional CPD

We’re regularly adding new books to our collection and two that caught my eye recently are in the field of planning. We’ve a lot of members who work in planning across the UK, including the RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute) themselves, and as a profession, planners commit to maintain and develop their expertise through Continuing Professional Development.

Using our book loan service is one way that our members can access new publications and stay up-to-date with current thinking in their sector.

  • Localism and Neighbourhood Planning

Neighbourhood planning was one of the rights and powers introduced under the Localism Act of 2011, and was expected to offer ” a new way for communities to decide the future of the places where they live and work”. Six years on, a new book edited by Sue Bronhill and Quintin Bradley, reflects on whether neighbourhood planning has succeeded in increasing democratic engagement with the planning system.

In particular it examines how localism has played out in practice, especially given the legal and technical skills that are required in planning. As well as exploring the situation in England, the book also looks at how multi-level governance is being applied in the other parts of the UK and in countries such as Australia and France.

It raises interesting questions about whether neighbourhood planning has changed the institutional structure of planning and the power relations involved. It also asks whether an even more progressive form of localism within planning might emerge.

  • Essential Guide to Planning Law

With the planning systems and law devolved within the UK, a book which provides an overview of how practice differs in each nation is much needed. This book covers all the core areas, from development management, planning conditions, planning control and enforcement. It also addresses the planning arrangements in specialist areas such as minerals planning, waste planning and marine planning.

The book serves as a useful reminder of how and why planning decisions are made, and the legal frameworks that underpin planning practice.

The Idox Information Service

As Dr Mike Harris, Deputy Head of Policy and Research at the Royal Town Planning Institute, has said, it’s important that the planning profession is able to access and use evidence and research.

“Research and theory can help to lift the perspective of practitioners beyond the day-to-day demands of the job, to provoke reflection and discussion about the wider social purposes and values of planning. It can also help us better to defend planning from those who would seek to erode it further.”


Our members include policy makers and practitioners from organisations including local authorities, central government, universities, think tanks, consultancies and charities. They work in challenging environments and often need evidence to inform service delivery or decision-making.

Get more information on membership here or contact us to arrange a free trial of our service for your organisation.

Community planning in the devolved UK

Community planning is all about how public bodies and other partners work with local communities to design and deliver services that suitably reflect the needs and priorities or a local area. Effective community planning incorporates strong partnership working and a shared vision which has been created especially to fit a set of local circumstances.

Providing effective and efficient services, promoting community engagement and enterprise and engaging the third sector are all things that could now be considered part of “community planning”. It is founded on the idea that communities know best; they know what they need, they know how it can be delivered and how they will use services in the most effective way to get the most value from them. With an increase in political devolution we have seen different approaches to delivering community planning emerge in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some nations embraced it from a very early stage, others less so. However, it has become an increasingly popular model over recent years, with all four administrations now using some form of community planning model.

England

In England, the focus has largely been on housing and land use and the relationship between community plans (which consider services and public engagement) and local development plans (which focus more on the physical aspects of planning in the community, such as land use). Neighbourhood plans give communities the opportunity to develop a shared vision for and shape the development and growth of their local area. Neighbourhood plans are not a legal requirement, but a right which communities can evoke if they wish to. They are designed to fit alongside local authority produced “local plans” and provide an opportunity for communities to set out a long term vision for their area in terms of development, and “may encourage them to consider ways to improve their neighbourhood other than through the development and use of land.”

Scotland

The introduction of the 2015 Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act is a clear indication of the stance of the Scottish Government with regards to community planning. As well as statutory rights being strengthened with regards to consultation and community consultation, the legislation also places statutory requirements on public bodies with regards to supporting local community based service delivery, and actively engaging local people in decision making processes. As a result of the legislation 32 Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) now exist in Scotland and they are responsible for developing and delivering community plans. These can take two forms:

  • a larger plan, which takes account of the whole CPP area (Local Outcomes Improvement Plan)
  • a smaller plan, which focuses on a smaller geographic area which has been identified as being in need of improvement (locality plan)

There is no limit to the number of plans CPP’s can create in a year, but the views of local communities are particularly important in creating these as that is the way to best reflect local needs and priorities.

In Scotland a consultation is also currently underway to consider ways to align community and spatial planning more closely, as it was recognised that planning for services should also be mapped along with physical development.

Wales

In a Welsh context the use of community planning focuses on resource allocation and the direction of resource to where it is needed. Promoting community cohesion and well-being through community planning is also something which can be seen in both Wales and Scotland. Increasingly, plans have attempted to incorporate a “place-centred”, “service focused”, “partnership led” approach, with the emphasis on individual need. It is hoped that by bringing service providers and other partners back in touch with the people who use their services that their views can be taken on in future planning projects. As in all community planning projects, partnerships are key; however in Wales one of the biggest challenges has been forming these partnerships and getting buy-in from local businesses. A similar challenge has also been seen with national level bodies.

This challenge of engaging national bodies in community planning has also been seen in Scotland. National bodies are expected to engage with rural and urban CPP’s in ways which reflect individual community need, something they had not been used to doing previously. As a result, promoting flexibility and adaptability and encouraging participation from a range of stakeholders in order to support the creation and delivery of community plans has been high on the agenda across the UK.

Northern Ireland

The situation in Northern Ireland is, to a large extent, still evolving. Executives at Stormont, as well as planners and developers, see engaging local people as important but they are also trying to find a model which works best for a Northern Irish context. Potential options for integrating community based models have included adopting models from England or Scotland respectively; creating their own model which takes elements from a number of different models; or making attempts to align the Northern Irish model closer to that of the Republic of Ireland.

Currently the legislative basis for community planning in Northern Ireland is set out in the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014. The Act makes a statutory link between community plans and local land use development plans, and makes the link between community planning for a district and well-being more explicit.

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Engaging difficult to reach communities in community planning

The views of local communities are particularly important when creating community plans, as their fundamental principle is to reflect service and resource need more effectively in order to benefit communities. As a result community planners across the UK face the unilateral challenge of getting people to engage. Different groups within a community may have different capacity and ability to engage. ‘Hard to reach’ groups are particularly important to the consultation process as it is often they who make the most use of services or have the greatest need for specific service provision. People in this group may include young people, older people, ethnic minorities or other socially excluded groups, and small businesses. They are also sometimes referred to as ‘seldom heard’ groups.

Methods to improve communication and consultation with hard to reach groups vary, but some potential barriers and solutions to engagement include:

  • Jargon and technical language – Policy and planning documents can be very long, and very dense, with lots of planning specific technical jargon, create an easy access version so that everyone can be engaged in discussions and not feel intimidated by “high level” documents.
  • Digital illiteracy – Increasingly consultation documents, some forums and copies of the plans themselves are held online, and improving access to these would help to encourage more people to participate.
  • Awareness and accessibility – Promoting consultations or community planning events, and holding them at a variety of times and in a variety of settings to allow people from different groups to attend. In addition providing them in multiple languages, using language that is more accessible for young people, or in a larger type size may also help to encourage people to participate.
  • Showing impact – Create follow up documents so that people can see how their input has made a difference. Even if the plan won’t be implemented for a number of months, let people know how what they said influenced or changed the decisions that were made.

It is clear that England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are at different stages in their community planning journey. However, they have all, in one way or another recognised the importance of engaging communities to identify needs and attempt to allocate resources accordingly. In many instances, these community agendas have not just been linked to spatial, or even service planning, but also to wider issues around inequality and well-being and how resources and planning across all areas can best be directed to tackle this. It may be that we see this reflected further in future legislation.


This blog reflects on a recent paper by Deborah Peel and Simon Pemberton “Exploring New Models of Community based Planning in the Devolved UK” a study funded by the Planning Exchange Foundation.

Idox Information Service members can access our research briefing on engaging communities in planning.

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Council Tax referendums: power to the people?

ballot box

Since the 2012-13 financial year, council tax increases beyond the government’s limit can trigger local referendums. But are they having an impact on policy?

The Council Tax: before and after localism

Local government spending in Great Britain is paid for by three main sources:

  • central government
  • business rates
  • council tax

The council tax pays for about a quarter of all local services. However, cuts in funding from central government have put pressure on local authorities trying to maintain and improve services. As a result, in recent years many councils have been forced to impose council tax rises. This in turn has generated opposition from local residents and charges from central government that the increases are excessive.

Previously, if ministers believed that local authorities were increasing taxes excessively they had the power to cap council tax rises. However, in 2010, the Conservative general election manifesto promised to give residents the power to veto excessive council tax increases. The measure was included in the coalition government’s programme for government and introduced in the Localism Act of 2011.

The thresholds for council tax rises

The Localism Act, which applies only in England, gives local communities the power to decide on council tax increases above a certain limit.  The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government determines this limit, which has to be approved by the House of Commons.

If a local authority proposes to raise taxes above the limit they must obtain approval from local voters in a referendum.

For the 2016-17 financial year, the government proposed the following thresholds:

  • local authorities with social care responsibilities – 4% (an extra 2% to fund social care)
  • district councils, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), fire and rescue authorities and the Greater London Authority (GLA): 2%
  • Districts and PCCs whose council tax level is in the lowest quartile of their type of authority may raise council tax by up to £5.00 on a Band D bill (which may be a greater rise than 2%).

This means, for example, that a local authority with social care responsibilities wishing to raise its council tax above 4% would have to organise a referendum on the proposed increase. In addition, the authority would have to make substitute calculations that would take effect if the proposed increase is rejected in the referendum.

Triggering a referendum

In March 2016, a survey by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) found that many councils are set to increase council tax close to the 3.99% maximum allowed under the referendum cap.

Few councils have so far set council taxes at a level that would trigger a referendum.

In 2015, the Green Party on Brighton and Hove Council failed to secure backing from the other parties for a 5.99% council tax rise. A settlement of 1.99% was eventually agreed, but the Greens said a bigger rise would have helped protect services for the elderly, adults in care, children and those living below the poverty line.

Bedfordshire says “No”

In May 2015, residents in Bedfordshire became the first in the country to vote in a referendum triggered by a decision to raise the council tax. The county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Olly Martins, increased the amount of the council tax for Bedfordshire Police by 15.84% compared to the previous year. He claimed that the increase would provide funds for more police officers.

However, the rise was rejected by almost 70% of voters, and the council had to issue new bills based on the lower increase of 1.99%.

Mr Martins said the result would mean a reduction of up to 135 uniformed officers from the existing 1,067. He also raised concerns about the rules on the wording on referendum ballot papers and awareness-raising during the campaign.

But Richard Fuller, the Conservative MP for Bedford claimed that the £350,000 spent on holding the referendum, and the £250,000 for re-billing meant that Mr Martins had shown “incredibly poor judgement”.

Here to stay

With only one council tax referendum to consider, it’s still too early to assess the impact such polls may have on policy. However, the costs and time-consuming nature of organising referendums of this kind may be acting as a deterrence to raising council tax bills above the referendum cap.

The government remains committed to the policy of council tax referendums, and has suggested that it could be extended to parish councils. In March 2014, the Labour Party confirmed that there were no plans to abolish the referendum principles. However, there is no guarantee that this will be the party’s policy going into the next general election.

For the foreseeable future, council tax referendums are here to stay.


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Police and Crime Commissioner elections: increasing engagement in low turnout elections

police, policeman back

On 5 May 2016, voters in 41 police force areas (excluding London) will go to the polls to elect Police and Crime Commissioner (PCCs). During the last PCC election, in November 2012, just over 36 million people were registered to vote in the elections, but only 5.49 million votes were cast (a turnout of around 15%). This is the lowest recorded level of participation in a peacetime non-local government election in the UK.

What are PCC’s?

The Conservative party, who formed one part of the coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, made the introduction of PCCs an election pledge in 2010. Elected PCCs are intended to be the democratic link between the public and the police. The government’s aims in setting up the PCCs were:

  • to form a key part of the localism agenda – giving power over local issues back to local people
  • to replace  the system of police authorities which had existed since 1964
  • to raise accountability, increase transparency and create legitimacy within local level policing

PCCs hire and fire chief constables, control budgets running into hundreds of millions of pounds and set local priorities for policing in their area. But when the role was introduced and the first elections for the posts held in 2012, turnout was disappointingly low . Public knowledge of the existence of the role was limited, as was understanding of the PCCs’ powers and responsibilities.

Supporters of the scheme heralded it as a new age of local policing that was more responsive to local needs. But some critics have questioned the paradox of “independent” commissioners who campaign on a party platform and point to some of the potential challenges of what they call “politicising policing”. Others have questioned the notion of legitimacy when the turnout for the first election was so low and the understanding of the role of commissioners was so limited.

Further to this, as many as 44% of current PCCs are not standing for re-election this time round. As a result, there is some frustration that people will not have the opportunity to judge PCCs on their record. As the elections approach, PCCs have been engaging with local people to try and raise awareness of their roles and of the upcoming election to ensure a better turnout than the first time around.

Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Home Secretary, at 'The Pioneers: Police and Crime Commissioners, one year on'

Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Home Secretary, at ‘The Pioneers: Police and Crime Commissioners, one year on’ Image by Policy Exchange via Creative Commons

The next stage of reform: new powers for PCCs?

In February 2016, the Home Secretary, Theresa May delivered a speech to the Policy Exchange think tank outlining the challenges which have faced PCCs since the elections of 2012 and setting out her vision for their future.

In addition to promoting increased transparency, accountability and cooperative joint working between forces in order to raise standards and cut costs, the government is also seeking to widen the role of PCCs within the criminal justice system. The proposals have still to be outlined in full, but they include collaborative working and strategy creation between Police, schools and the wider criminal justice system. In addition, under the Policing and Crime Bill currently going through Parliament, PCCs will be able to take responsibility for fire and rescue services (where a local case can be made), and to create a single employer for the two services.

It is clear that there also needs to be a discussion about how PCCs could fit within the emerging context of locally elected mayors and the wider devolution agenda. The proposals for devolution for Greater Manchester mean that the role of PCC will be abolished in 2017, and transferred to the mayor once elections have taken place.

Why don’t people vote?

Analysts have suggested that a lack of voter awareness and the November timing of the election both contributed to the lack of interest and low levels of voter participation in the 2012 PCC elections.

Recent changes to voting registration in the UK have resulted in a drop in the number of registered voters, leading some to predict that turnout in this year’s PCC elections will not be much higher than in 2012. However, a surge in people registering for the upcoming EU referendum, may counteract this trend. The fact that PCC elections are also being held on the same day as more high profile local government elections may also encourage more people to vote, although the questions of voter awareness of PCCs’ roles remain.

Other suggested reasons for low turnout  have been the use of the supplementary vote system, and poor candidate engagement during the election campaign. Even after the elections, 1 in 3 people in England were unable to name or recognise their local PCC.

Time will tell whether this situation improves after the 2016 vote.

VOTE

Image by Idox Information Service

 


Idox election services

The Idox elections team delivers innovative, cost effective solutions to meet the changing needs of the UK and international electoral services market. This year, we shall again provide election management services to support the local government and PCC elections in England and Wales and the Scottish Parliament elections.

Eligible voters have until 18 April 2016 to register to vote in the local council and Police & Crime Commissioner elections in England and the Holyrood election in Scotland.The deadline for voter registration for the European Union referendum is 7 June. Further information is available here.

To sign up for our weekly bulletin update relating to the Scottish Parliament elections please email this address).

Also on our blog: Pushing the vote out: how can more people be persuaded to exercise their most basic civic right?

Place-based approaches to service delivery

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Manchester Town Hall: (Photograph, James Carson)

By Alan Gillies

A recent enquirer to our popular Ask a Researcher service sought our help to identify the available research on the concept of place-based or whole-place working.

Place-based approaches have been promoted through, for example, the previous UK government’s whole place community budgets. And in the Scottish context, the 2011 Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services recommended a place-based, or ‘total place’ approach in order to improve local services and break down institutional silos.

In keeping with its focus on localism, the UK government also piloted a neighbourhood-level version – ‘complementary and integral to the concept of Whole Place community budgets’ – and in April 2014 granted an extra £4.3m of investment to ensuring the model reached 100 new local areas through the Our Place programme.

Principles of place-based or whole-place working

The principles underpinning this model of collaborative place leadership have been identified by the Local Government Association as:

  • building services around people and communities;
  • removing barriers to better outcomes and reduced costs through integrated working across agencies;
  • involving the business and voluntary sectors as equal partners;
  • collaborating to put together a workable whole public sector approach, joint responsibility and shared leadership;
  • local innovation and co-design with central government departments;
  • local delivery and investment mechanisms tailored to local needs and circumstances.

Benefits

The financial savings of such an approach could be significant. In January 2013, a report by Ernst & Young estimated that community budgets in England could deliver a net benefit of between £9.4 and £20.6bn over five years.

In looking at the costs and benefits of the whole place pilots in England in 2013, the NAO warned however that previous attempts such as local-area agreements, multi-area agreements and Total Place “did not lead to widespread or fundamental changes in local public services, or in the relationship between central and local government”.

But as financial pressure on public finances increased, there was even greater incentive than before to assess whether integrated whole-place approaches could help deliver services within increasingly tight budgets. A major driver of the process was therefore to maintain services while making savings.

The potential for place-based or whole-place policies to deliver financial savings does seem to be backed by the available evidence.

However, Localis, as recently as March 2015, has suggested that there is a sense across local government that Whitehall is unwilling to devolve the powers and funds necessary to let whole-place community budgets become a truly successful alternative means of delivering public services. The community budget pilots themselves ‘consistently pointed out that to deliver change on the scale they envisage there has to be change not only at a local level but also in Whitehall.’ (Ernst & Young, 2013)

Current government policy

The current government’s policy of devolution deals with certain areas has been seen as a way of realising the potential of place-based working. The Core Cities Group has called on the government to go further though. It wants the government to undertake a ‘place-based’ comprehensive spending review, looking at the total public resources deployed across a city or city region. It argues that without a similar place-based approach “within Whitehall, Holyrood and Cardiff Bay”, to join up the way different departments work with local agencies and cities, “we will not see the changes people want, need and deserve, in their lives and their cities”.

Local government lessons

In an interesting exercise, the New Local Government Network brought together local government chief executives to explore how place-based, integrated public services could deliver budget reductions and better outcomes for people in a notional ‘Newtown’.

The main learning points identified it its 2014 report were:

  • Working towards outcomes for place requires a different way of thinking and is an incredibly hard thing to do, particularly in relation to prevention, commissioning for outcomes and joining together what different sections of the public sector are doing to deliver outcomes for place.
  • Groups found it tough to move beyond current services and ways of working to develop new approaches to deliver outcomes. Thinking tended to involve ‘less of the same’ or different delivery bodies, rather than whole-scale public service reform.
  • There are a huge number of choices that need to be made and a vast range of stakeholder interactions required, yet few localities have the capacity available to complete this unaided.
  • Few areas have the practical experience to embed customer journey mapping into place based design principles. Perhaps worryingly, the report noted that groups found it difficult to put citizens at the centre of their plans for reform.
  • Despite having ‘red-lines’ of was not possible to change as part of the exercise (e.g. taxation), the groups went outside of these to ask government for additional powers, which suggests that in order to radically change public service in localities, central government reform maybe necessary.

These findings point to some of the challenges that local areas will need to overcome if they want to embrace a place-based approach.


Among the services offered by the Idox Knowledge Exchange, one of the most popular is our Ask a Researcher service.

In the past few months we’ve answered enquiries ranging from older people’s employment to young people’s housing; from rural inequalities to smart cities; and from early intervention to dispute resolution.

The Ask a Researcher service is available on a pay-per-search basis, or access can be included as part of an Information Service subscription. For more information, please contact us.

Devolved governance – what role for planning?

government

by Alan Gillies

Last week the RTPI sent us a copy of a collection of papers it had just published, based on a symposium held at UCL in April 2015, on the topic “Critical Perspectives on Devolved Models of Governance”.

The issues covered, devolution, decentralisation, localism, are highly topical and a glance down the list of contributors – all well-known academics and thinkers – convinced me that the collection was worth a close read during my morning and evening commutes. So, a few train journeys later, here’s what I learned from each paper.

‘Critical perspectives on devolved governance – lessons from housing policy in England’

Miguel Coelho, from the Institute for Government, argues that any arrangements for devolved governance need to address housing supply constraints created by failures in the governance of land and construction property rights in England, which tend to favour the interests of current homeowners.

His analysis of the housing supply problem identifies three issues:

  • planning decisions made at local level may not allow for the full range of interests affected, especially in the absence of effective city/regional planning coordination
  • local communities’ attitudes to housebuilding in their area are sensitive to temporary disruption and house price impacts
  • a highly centralised fiscal system gives little power to councils to allow them to avoid/compensate for these problems and facilitate development.

This leads Coelho to the conclusion that proper governance of land and construction is not just about decentralising planning decisions to local level. All interests should be taken into account, not just current local homeowners, so some form of supra-local planning coordination is needed.

‘Assessing the impact of decentralisation’

Professor John Tomaney, from Bartlett School of Planning UCL, considers the benefits of decentralisation, based on a study of international experience.

He suggests that the UK government “has embarked on a radical policy of decentralisation in England, which it calls ‘localism’.” This particular form of decentralisation, different from the kinds tried in other countries, makes it difficult to assess the effects. However, in general Tomaney gives a positive message that high degrees of decentralisation are associated with higher levels of subjective well-being. Interestingly the suggestion seems to be that fiscal decentralisation seems to be more relevant, in this regard, than political decentralisation.

‘Planning, place governance and the challenges of devolution’

Patsy Healey, Emeritus Professor at Newcastle University, emphasises the importance of place and argues that decentralisation needs to connect to what people care about and encourage broadly-based public debate about these concerns.

She argues that over-centralisation represses the capacity for innovation in the planning field and undermines its ability to create and sustain place-focused development strategies.  However she warns that we can’t be naïve about the benefits of localism – decentralisation should not just be handing tasks down to lower levels of government. Wider levels of government are needed to provide oversight and promote strategies and values which affect people’s attachments at a broader scale.

Healey’s hope is for the slow replacement of top-down governance, dominated by experts, with “multiple, non-hierarchical overlapping but interacting forms of ‘network governance’.”

‘Making strategic planning work’

Nicholas Falk, of the Urbed consultancy, stresses that planning is not a science through which problems can be resolved by bringing enough data together. Political choices have to be made, requiring leadership at local, as well as regional and national levels.

Like Tomaney, he looks overseas for lessons, particularly France. He proposes an ‘ABC’ of the requirements for placemaking leadership: Ambition to create better places; Brokerage to put deals together and win support for change; and Continuity, giving enough time to turn vision into reality.

He argues that we need to mobilise private investment behind housebuilding and local infrastructure rather than sustaining inflated house prices. He also makes the point that current regional boundaries are no longer appropriate and that instead we need to empower both city regions and dynamic counties.

The contribution of planning to England’s devolutionary journey

Janice Morphet, Visting Professor at the Bartlett School of Planning, looks at devolution as a process not an event.

She suggests that planning can contribute to devolution in the following ways: 1) it can capture the vision for the whole place; 2) it can set this vision in the context of the nation and its surrounding neighbours. Of course this has to be undertaken with partners and stakeholders in the wider governance framework, but decisions have to be taken by the ‘government of the place’ – which she suggests is likely to be through a combined authority.

Morphet concludes that planning has a major contribution to make, through its map making, visioning and prioritisation in order to develop ‘city and sub-regional hearts’.

‘Place-based leadership and social innovation’

Professor Robin Hambleton, of the University of the West of England, looks at the role leadership has to play in fostering social innovation.

He criticises the over-centralisation of government in Britain and calls devolution deals for selected parts of the country (such as city regions or combined authorities) a ‘devolution deception’ as they are expected to be “mere servants of Whitehall”.

Hambleton sets out three pointers to renewing local democracy:

1) recognise that the current over-centralised system holds back the innovative capacity of the people and set up a constitutional convention to create a new local/central settlement;

2) learn from abroad, where local authorities often have far more political power and responsibility for local taxation, allowing local leaders to respond to local challenges;

3) people living in particular localities need to have much more say in what happens to quality of life in their area, though with limits to tackle issues of self-interest and exclusion.

‘Collaborative innovation: the argument’

Finally Professor Jacob Torfing, of Roskilde University, Denmark, argues for the bringing together of public and private actors in processes of collaborative innovation.

He points out that the idea of co-creation of innovative solutions to policy issues is of growing interest, but argues that a new form of public leadership is needed for it to happen.

Interestingly, Torfing warns that we need to recognise that there is no guarantee that innovation leads to improvement, so the definition of innovation should not include reference to successful outcomes. Drawing on the research literature he points out that of the three types of strategies for developing public policy innovation – authoritative, competitive and collaborative – collaborative is the best for creative problem solving.

He argues that public leaders need to involve the private sector in developing innovative strategies, in order to benefit from this collaborative approach.

Final reflections

The overall messages that can be drawn from the papers include:

  • Over-centralisation limits the ability of local areas to develop their own solutions to local problems, whether in the planning field or other sectors, but simply devolving decisions to the local level is not the answer.
  • Local communities should have a say in decisions that affect the area where they live, and the evidence is that decentralisation is good for well-being, however a broader ‘supra-local’ level of governance is needed.
  • Fiscal devolution gives local and regional bodies the means to implement the solutions they identify
  • Devolution offers a real opportunity for encouraging innovation in developing solutions to policy problems…
  • … but this requires new leadership skills for the public sector to take the risks involved in innovation, and to coordinate the range of interests involved
  • As Torfing describes it, this would mean “a new type of public leadership that is more proactive, horizontal and integrative and that recasts public leaders as conveners, facilitators and catalysts of collaborative innovation”.

You can read the full collection of papers, published by the RTPI, on their website.

The Idox Information Service has introduced an exclusive offer for RTPI members to help them with their evidence needs.

This year Idox is also sponsoring the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence, recognising and promoting high quality spatial planning research.

Loosening the belt: the debate over building on green belt land

By James Carson

“The green belt has been exalted as sacrosanct in a way in which almost no other policy area has been indulged, and any attempts to have a serious conversation about its development have been swiftly stifled with the same kind of force as would usually be reserved for suggestions to entirely dismantle the NHS.”

So said Andrew Carter, the Acting Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, writing on the Conservative Home website earlier this month. It’s true that green belts have long been regarded as untouchable. But there are signs that the bulletproof shield protecting them could be breaking down.

In September, the Wolfson Economics Prize went to regeneration consultancy Urbed for its proposal to create a city of 400,000 people by doubling the size of an existing town and building on the surrounding green belt. The following month, Rowan Moore, The Observer’s architecture critic, considered the arguments for and against green belts and concluded:

“…it is no longer good enough to insist that green belts must, at all costs, never change.”

Meanwhile, defenders of green belts have been voicing their concerns. “A weakening of protection for green belts would lead to urban sprawl over precious countryside and farmland,” said the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), launching its campaign for a stronger commitment from government to review the latest threats to the green belt. And after the Wolfson prize winner was announced, architect Richard Rogers spoke out against Urbed’s proposal to take a bite out of the green belt, calling it “a ridiculous concept.”

The idea of curbing urbanisation is not new. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a three-mile wide belt around London was proposed in order to stop the spread of the plague. More recently, the garden city movement’s ideas about urban and rural areas, led to the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, which allowed local authorities to include green belts in their town plans.

Today, there are 14 green belts in England, 10 in Scotland, 30 in Northern Ireland and one in Wales. They exist as buffers between towns and countryside, and successive governments have ensured that they are maintained. The UK government’s latest National Planning Policy Framework sets out the green belt’s five purposes:

  • to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
  • to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
  • to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
  • to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
  • to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

Historically, green belts have been regarded as one of Britain’s great planning successes. But there has been growing criticism of the costs of the green belt, typified by Rowan Moore’s observation:

“It stops cities expanding, which had previously done so for centuries. It contributes to the scarcity and cost of decent homes in large parts of the country. It encourages bizarre and wasteful patterns of commuting. It often fails in its original aim of providing accessible recreational space for city dwellers. It is enforced with a rigidity that makes little sense, except as a sign of mistrust.”

Britain’s housing crisis has amplified calls for the green belt to be breached.  Government projections suggest that the UK needs six million new homes in the next 30 years. Proponents of building on green land contend that existing urban and brownfield areas alone cannot cater for the housing demand, an argument underlined by Urbed in its submission to the Wolfson competition.

Centre for Cities has claimed that building on 5.2% of green belt land within and around Britain’s least affordable cities would deliver 1.4 million new homes.

Their opponents disagree. This month, the CPRE reported that a minimum of 976,000 new homes could be built on identified brownfield sites in England, and that the supply of these sites is steadily increasing. The organisation has also suggested that housebuilders are “sitting on huge areas of land with planning permission which could provide over 280,000 new homes.”

With a general election on the horizon, the main political parties have been drawing up their battle lines. The Labour Party is showing signs of greater flexibility on the green belt issue. In October, Sir Michael Lyons published the final report of his independent review of housing for the Labour Party. One of his recommendations included allowing more homes to be built on parts of the protected green belt if the land has little “environmental or amenity value”. In response, the Conservative Party has reiterated its commitment to protecting the green belt.

Perhaps most interestingly, it’s at the local level that changing policies on green belts can be most clearly seen. Councils in England are responding to the housing crisis by using localism powers granted to them by the coalition government to de-designate or swap greenbelt land in the context of making a local plan. Figures published in August by Glenigan planning and construction consultants revealed that 5,600 new homes were approved to be built on green belt land last year, a 148% increase on the 2,260 green belt homes in 2009/10.

The debate now seems to be moving towards a recognition that some infringement of green belt land is inevitable, which is perhaps why a recent commentary on the subject by an academic from the London School of Economics was not titled, “Why should we build on the green belt?” Instead, it was headlined: “Where should we build on the green belt?”.


Further reading

The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on planning. Items we’ve recently summarised for our database include:

Delivering change: building homes where we need them

Utopias that work: how to create tomorrow’s garden city

Removing obstacles to brownfield development: how government can work with communities to facilitate the re-use of previously developed land (Foresight paper no 2)

Uxcester garden city (second stage submission for the Wolfson Economics Prize 2014)

Greenbelt under development: special report

Green belts: a local way forward for the twenty first century

N.B. Abstracts and access to subscription journal articles are only available to members of the Idox Information Service.

How preventative policymaking could benefit local authorities

Crossing out problems and writing solutions on a blackboard.By Stephen Lochore

Preventative policy and spending aim to address the root causes of social and economic problems. In public policy, it’s most commonly applied in the fields of health and social care, early years education, welfare and criminal justice (reducing offending).

Early in November, I spoke at a seminar organised by the Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change and SCVO which explored preventative policy in Scotland.  While we inevitably spent some time discussing the challenges, there was a strong collective feeling about the advantages of a preventative approach to policymaking.  Continue reading