I was (and still am) deeply underwhelmed and concerned by the lack of support for industrial and logistics in the draft Revised NPPF and the potential for a consequential imbalance between housing and employment in the future. It appears that, yet again, the valuable contribution the sector makes to the economy, as highlighted in the recent Freight Transport Association Logistics Report 2018 (i.e. 195,000 logistics enterprises nationwide, employing 2.5 million people with £121 billion GVA to the UK economy), will be overlooked in national planning policy guidance. Perhaps my (misplaced) optimism, on the lead up to the recent consultation, was fuelled, in part, by the refreshing approach taken in the emerging London Plan. Surely now is the time for national guidance to adapt and modernise so that it can support the requirements of this rapidly evolving sector more readily in the interests of international competitiveness? Without this support, the process can be uncertain, protracted and costly. So, what can we rely upon to provide the much-needed advocacy for a sector, which, in metaphorical terms, is often referred to as the ‘electricity of the economy’?
Local Industrial Strategies (LISs), in my view, are a welcome by-product of the Industrial Strategy. A number of these are currently being formulated by Mayoral Combined Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) across the country (to be agreed by Government), including Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Oxfordshire, the Thames Valley and West Yorkshire. In line with current Government rhetoric, LISs should be inherently ‘place-based’ and should build on local strengths whilst delivering economic opportunities for their community. Assisted by Government Funding (e.g. Growth Deal Funding, Sector Deals, Transforming Cities Fund and Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund), the key objectives are boosting productivity, earning power and competitiveness. This can be achieved by improving skills, increasing innovation, enhancing infrastructure and business growth, and guiding local and national funding streams. The creation of forums that bring together business leaders, education and infrastructure providers, as well as other key public and private sector stakeholders is a critical part of this process (many of these are already in existence through the LEPs). So, for me, the essential ingredients of an effective LIS are:
- Evidence of inclusive and wide ranging engagement with business leaders and stakeholders with as much political buy-in as possible;
- A robust, evidential basis with clear justification for any actions and objectives;
- A realistic, deliverable, agile, long-term and resilient strategy for maximising and connecting strategic assets and capabilities - considering the ‘here and now’ but sufficiently future proofed to enable it to respond to changing economic, social or environmental circumstances;
- A spatial framework aligned with existing and proposed infrastructure;
- Clarity in terms of delivery including a clear, time-based investment strategy;
- The incorporation of effective ongoing monitoring and review mechanisms to gauge success.
The extent to which LISs will be expressed spatially is unclear at this stage. My view is that this is essential given the tie in with infrastructure and the specific locational criteria that underpin industrial and logistics developments. Yes there must be a degree of flexibility to account for ad hoc developments that pop up from time to time, but a spatial framework would provide the direction, focus and coherency required to plug the gap in strategic governance left over following the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies. Moreover, from a delivery perspective, this would add ‘teeth’ to iron out obstacles to delivery, such as local politics, that can stifle essential development and infrastructure.
One of the potential weaknesses of LISs is that they relate to administrative boundaries as opposed to Functional Economic Market Areas (FEMAs) that in many cases straddle these boundaries. Perhaps there is a role for Statements of Common Ground in fostering cooperation and creating cohesion where a FEMA is located across two areas producing separate LISs. Furthermore, some areas are struggling to reconcile their LIS and Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) targets. For example, in the West Midlands the SEP job growth target is higher than the cumulative job growth targets of the constituent LEPs.
The Government’s Industrial Strategy White Paper states that the first LISs will be agreed by March 2019. Given the mention in Paragraph 83 of the draft Revised NPPF, one must assume that they are being taken seriously and are here to stay. I believe it would be helpful for the Government to include a definition of LISs in either the glossary of the Revised NPPF or in the Planning Practice Guidance and have made representations to that effect. Whether this is included or not, my advice to those with an interest in the sector is to engage with the process where you can to ensure your interests are acknowledged otherwise you run the risk of missing out.
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Local Industrial Strategies, NPPF