Northern Powerhouse won’t get far with a “fragmented” planning system, says report

Leeds Town Hall (Demo)

THE North isn’t going to realise its potential by restricting growth and prosperity to major metropolitan areas, says a new report; a more joined-up approach to planning is essential to ensure it reaches neglected towns and communities too.

Ambitions for the North, launched by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) at an event in Leeds yesterday, argues that “entrenched” ways of delivering housing and infrastructure will only repeat “mistakes of the past”. The silos need to be broken, with reinvestment in “good planning” from the local level to the cross-boundary strategic level.

In a keynote speech at the event, Lord Heseltine warned that the current “fragmented and under-resourced planning of the North” must be addressed head on.

A good start is being made, the report suggests, with several government departments, Transport for the North, NP11, combined authorities and other bodies making “significant progress” together in driving forward the Northern Powerhouse.

However, the report says their individual plans need to be “knitted together into a coherent whole” that would direct development and regeneration strategically to break with unsustainable patterns of land use, road-based housing development and city-oriented investment and help to rebalance the North.

The report is calling for an overarching spatial vision for the whole of the North of England, supported by strategies similar to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework for each functional area.

These would allow the North to respond better to social, economic and climatic changes and address the needs of settlements outside the influence of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, such as coastal towns and deep rural areas.

This kind of pan-North collaborative planning is essential for understanding the impact of major investment and development on people and the environment, and for communities’ views to be taken into account before decisions are made, it says.

“At a time when the North looks set to receive unprecedented levels of investment, we must think hard about how to capitalise on this to ensure that change benefits everyone over the long term,” said Ian Tant, president of the RTPI. “Entrenched ways of delivering housing and infrastructure through silo working will only repeat mistakes of the past.

“This is the moment to reinvest in good planning – from the most local level to strategically across boundaries — to create not only a prosperous North but greener, healthier, more inclusive and sustainable places that people proudly call home.”

Ambitions for the North was commissioned by the RTPI to explore how to transform the North through better planning across the whole region. It distilled the views of over 120 individuals representing business, academia, planning and development and civic interest, gathered in a series of roundtable discussions held last year.

The report calls for prevailing Northern Powerhouse concerns about economic growth and infrastructure to encompass inequalities within the North, high street decline and neglected towns, public health, and the quality of life of all its citizens.

Distinctive northern assets such as heritage in town centres and national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) should also be better used and integrated with the overall spatial vision.

The report was undertaken by Peter Brett Associates and the University of Newcastle. Key recommendations include:

  • A strategic review of housing in the North to provide an alternative to the Government’s numbers-driven “standard methodology” and which aligns more closely with the North’s growth strategy
  • A Ports, Logistics, Airports and Industrial Strategy for the North
  • An overarching spatial vision for the North of England built around sustainable modes of transport, supported by spatial strategies for each functional area similar to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework
  • Spatial plans for National Parks and AONBs with the same status as the above plans and integrated with them
  • A single platform of open data to facilitate better collaborative planning

Commenting on the report, Sarah Longlands, director of IPPR North, said: “IPPR North are delighted to have worked with the RTPI to establish a blueprint for a Great North Plan because we know that planning is vital to putting people and places at the heart of the North’s ambitions. This next stage in the development of a Great North Plan is welcome and it’s important that we continue to keep the power of planning at the top of the policy agenda.”



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