THE LOCAL GOVERNANCE CONTEXT OF THE ENGLISH SPATIAL PLANNING SYSTEM
From 2000 it was clear that the local development plan would work within the vision set by community strategy rather than expecting the two plans to be equal and parallel, i.e. not overtly touching each other (Morphet 2002). A major reform of local government powers and constitutions in 2000 created a new operating environment for planning activity. It separated the development and delivery of planning policy from planning’s regulatory role in determining planning applications. These reforms in local governance started a process of change that was to be the foundation of the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act and to give spatial planning its new role. This chapter outlines these changes in more detail in order to provide greater understanding of the role of spatial planning post-2004. These reforms continue to be developed and implemented through new legislation such as the 2007 Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act, the 2007 Sustainable Communities Act and the 2009 Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act. The introduction of spatial planning as part of the reconstructed planning system in 2004 inserted it as an essential component of the structure of local governance. The delivery role of spatial planning has been set out in more detail in government policy for planning and for local government, e.g. in PPS 1 (ODPM 2005e) and PPS 12 (CLG 2008c), Planning Together (CLG 2009a) and in the Local Government White Paper 2006 (CLG 2006a). However, there has been little consideration of how spatial planning works within these new arrangements which are more joined-up, evidence-based, place focussed and performance managed than ever before. Before the 2004 reforms, development planning was frequently seen as something separate from the rest of local governance structures, partners and agencies. It operated to its own rhythm. Its long time scales and process-based approach often discouraged others inside local organisations from working with it. The focus on process inevitably overshadowed the role of planning and the wider contribution it could make. The slow speed frequently alienated others within the organisation. More importantly, the planning process was often regarded as being an impediment to taking any action and with it an inability to respond quickly to any changes in local circumstances, such as a closure of a major business or the availability of new
funding or investment that was available on a competitive basis with other areas. Frequently, responses were developed by local, regional and national government agencies despite the planning system. For those who were delivering the development planning system before 2004, the use of specialist language and processes led to separation and isolation. Planning services were increasingly incorporated within larger organisational groups of activities for management purposes as the strategic contribution of the development plan was perceived as reducing. Heads of planning services were frequently dropped from local authority management teams as their role and contribution appeared to be more procedural rather than strategic (CLG 2006a). Increased pressure from central government on local authority performance, including that of planning services, encouraged local authority chief executives to focus chief planners on improving the performance of development control. Those planners who were frustrated by this loss of status, the rule-based approach to the planning system and wider engagement, frequently left planning in order to move into the private sector or other public service roles (Durning 2007). Planning was also operating within a changing local governance context, although this was not internalised within the local planning system. The scale and extent of these local governance reforms started to increase the distance between planning services and the rest of the organisation. The development plan had long served as the major strategic plan for the area and the local authority but, following the 2000 Local Government Act, this was replaced by the community strategy which every local authority had a duty to prepare. It was also identified as the ‘plan of plans’ for the area from the outset and this was recognised in the Planning Green Paper (DTLR 2001b). As the community strategy was not subjected to the same processes of examination and adoption as the development plan, many planners were slow to appreciate its strong and increasing role. It was, however, required to have a sustainability appraisal as an overarching policy document that would commit to priorities and expenditure for the area.