The release of ‘Partnering for Prosperity: A new deal for the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc,’ is a refreshing report from the National Infrastructure Commission on recommendations not only for CaMKoX but also for wider strategic planning. They appear to have taken on board points raised during the consultation, such as the governance recommendation of an independent chair, formalisation of sub-regional boards and a step in if no agreement can be reached. Beyond the duty to cooperate to a duty to agree – they have listened.
The report includes a number of potential benefits to local areas, but they are not without conditions. They are trying to strike a fair balance between localism and the need to deliver for the national interest. We will watch with interest to see how the recent announcement relating to the Secretary of State step in for 15 Local Plans works, to see how it works in practice.
In regard to the five-year housing land supply, it recommends that if a deal is put in place that commits a local authority to additional growth this should not increase their exposure risk in terms of paragraph 14 of the NPPF. Otherwise there will be little incentive to volunteer. This is probably fair, but we will need the new growth to deliver so there should be some way of monitoring this. If applied what will need to be watched is that the growth signed up to in the deals is actually new and not simply a ‘re-badging’ of growth already in the pipeline.
As part of our submission in response to the ‘Cambridge to Oxford Connection: Ideas Competition’, we stressed the need for a more strategic oversight of key development principles, something that has clearly been taken into consideration as the report calls for a design review panel. If this is implemented, it will require consistent measures to test against which should be in the vision and will need to be applied consistently in such a way that does not slow down process. Whether the panel should only be looking at specific design or wider principles is something that is sure to come out in the wash.
One area that is a bit lacking in detail from the report is land assembly. Although development corporations and options for land assembly are discussed, there are no specific recommendations and instead suggests NIC recommendations will soon follow. When referring to land value capture, there is a clear acknowledgment that CIL and S106 pooling restrictions will hinder the funding of corridor wide infrastructure. Instead a corridor specific levy that does not include pooling restrictions is muted, however, it does not go any further than this.
Partnership working is clearly key in this report, with a lot being left to the relevant parties along the corridor to come to an agreement in what appears to be eye wateringly tight timescales. For example, the Oxfordshire Growth Board is expected to become the joint planning committee that is empowered to take decisions on development by April 2018. The same would be applied to the central section by April 2018, with an Arc wide board implemented in the summer of 2018 and an agreed vision for the arc by the summer of 2019. This could well be an underestimation of how controversial establishing joint planning committees could be. From there it recommends that the new and expanded settlements are designated by 2020 and if they do not agree the NIC suggests that the SoS steps in. Basically, this is assuming one year to agree the implementation of the first new towns in a generation. If this can be done fantastic!
Comparing this to the timescales for the expressway, it appears even more challenging. The route for the expressway is recommended to be confirmed in 2025, five years after the new and expanded settlements are to be designated. The route could easily affect the locations for growth and therefore I hope this work runs in parallel as far as possible...
Overall, some refreshingly ambitious recommendations from the NIC that really start to look at strategic planning that tries to link together housing, infrastructure and economic growth. Of course, these are only recommendations to Government, so the interesting bit now will be what is carried forward by Government into policy. The first indication we will get will be today’s budget, so we will be watching out for CaMKoX and look forward to hearing what the future holds…
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