Director of Cities Chairman‘s report October 2019
West Midlands APPG inquiry into the success of devolution
The West Midlands APPG has invited submission specifically investigating the progress of devolution in the West Midlands. The HBF made a submission that drew upon its experiences of working with the West Midlands Combined Authority. Echoing its submission to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee (see above) the HBF has argued strongly for the need for the Mayor of the West Midlands to be granted spatial plan making powers and for this to be implemented as a matter of urgency. This, the HBF, has argued, is necessary to break the planning impasse in the West Midlands: that is the inability of the 19 constituent local authorities to cooperate on planning to resolve the pressing problem of Birmingham City’s and the Black Country’s housing shortfall.
Mayoral elections are due again in May 2020. The pending metro mayor election has resulted in a further delay to the preparation of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, although the ostensible reason given is the inability of central government to make an amendment to the Spatial Development Strategy Regulations 2018 to allow the mayor to designate land (for example, for green belt). Consultation of the draft submission version of the Plan had been expected over the summer, but Mayor Andy Burnham has now announced that consultation will be delayed until after the May 2020 election. Depending on the election manifestos of the mayoral candidates, and who wins, it is expected that there will be further delays to accommodate those manifesto pledges. Therefore, although the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) expects adopted in early 2021, in reality, once further redrafting has been allowed for, and then examination-in-public (which will require at least a year), we are not expecting the GMSF to be adopted before the end of 2023. This would be seven years later than had originally been anticipated (adoption has previously been scheduled for 2016).
The GMSF is still being prepared as a Joint Plan for the time being, rather than a spatial development strategy. This will remain the case until the Government amends the Spatial Development Strategy Regulations 2018 to specifically allow the Mayor of Greater Manchester to designate and de-designate land. This is necessary to enable strategic sites to be allocated by the spatial plan, rather than have to wait for supporting local plans to make these amendments. Until then, the GMSF will require sign-off by the full council of all ten constituent local authority members (instead of sign-off by all the leaders appointed to the board of the combined authority). This is likely to result in a watering down of the housing objectives, as constituent members jockey for dispensations, and it explains why the current Mayor has been keen to adopt a low housing requirement. The additional delays and the inability to bring forward new strategic sites in the meantime until the strategic plan is adopted will feed-through to lower levels of new housing completions. In turn this will feed-through into lower ONS household projections in 2020 (2018-based).
The HBF has had to adopt a supportive line in Greater Manchester in order maintain a dialogue with the combined authority. We have argued that the HBF would support an increase in investment in Greater Manchester – especially grant funding to facilitate more regeneration – but only in return for more ambition in terms of housing targets. We are advocating that the Mayor returns to the aim of an earlier version of the GMSF and plans for 227,000 homes.
Liverpool City Region
The HBF had a meeting with the combined authority in September. The combined authority welcomed the HBF’s report the Economic Footprint of Housing in Liverpool City Region. This report was produced by the HBF in response to a request from the combined authority that the HBF publicises the success of the housebuilding in the Liverpool City Region. The report shows that housebuilding has increased significantly across all six of the local authorities that make up the city region, with Knowsley in particular, achieving a 78% increase in the last five years.
The HBF has also provided a copy of the report to the Liverpool City Region APPG which will be discussing the question of housing at its next meeting (date to be announced. This meeting was cancelled owing to the prorogation of Parliament).
Work on the Liverpool City Region Spatial Framework is progressing, but only slowly, owing to a shortage of staff. The HBF will be in conversation with the combined authority to discuss whether it might be possible to secure funding from Government for the combined authority to build-up its plan-making capacity. We consider that this would be deserved, as the combined authority has the ambition to be the first authority in the country to have an adopted mayoral spatial plan outside of London. It is likely that the spatial plan will require that each of the six authorities accommodate their own housing needs in full within their own respective boundaries.
West of England
Many had expected the West of England to be the first of the new combined authority areas to adopt a spatial plan. This is not now going to be the case. In September the local authorities received a significant rebuff from the Planning Inspectorate which has dismissed the draft plan – the Joint Spatial Plan - as unfit. The Panel appointed by the Secretary of State to examine the Plan has concluded that the Plan is irremediably flawed owing to the failure of the councils to define a spatial strategy at the outset – i.e. a strategy that explains how development needs are to be distributed and justifying how strategic development locations have been chosen. This would make it impossible for supporting local plans to justify how additional development needs were to be located and apportioned or how new sites could be selected to support the delivery of the Plan’s aims. The Panel has encouraged the four councils to withdraw its plan.
On the one hand, the verdict of PINS is encouraging as it signals to local authorities around the country that they cannot expect an ‘easy passage’ on the back of James Brokenshire’s letter of June 2019 (the Secretary of State’s letter had advocated pragmatism by PINS and participants to help get more plans adopted). However, the HBF is concerned that the adoption of a spatial plan (which is critical to plan for Bristol City’s unmet housing need) may now be delayed for many years (it could take up to three years before a new draft plan is adopted). Therefore, it has approached the West of England councils to discuss ways and means to expedite the preparation of a new spatial plan. This could include the appointment of an independent scrutiny panel to review the councils’ strategic plan, before it is submitted to the Secretary of State. The Combined Authority and the lead member for the development of the strategy has written back welcoming the opportunity to meet with the HBF to discuss options for a way forward. One option to be discussed is the preparation of a Statement of Common Ground to provide a semblance of a spatial strategy that will inform local plan production while a fresh spatial plan is prepared. This is essential as we are aware from talking to members that the land market has become very tight in the West of England area.
If members have any questions, or would like more detail, about the West of England spatial strategy process then get in touch with James Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone him on 0207 960 1623.