Blog: 30 June 2016What a week for the North...

Dan Mitchell

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Dan Mitchell

Planning Director

Manchester office

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As Lord O’Neill releases the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review outlining opportunity to transform the North with 850,000 more jobs by 2050, Liverpool LEP announce ambitious strategy which could see the creation of 100,000 extra jobs by 2040.

Obviously it is extremely exciting to see such aspiring goals for employment growth and skills development. But it is vital that land-use planning is appropriated to ensure we have the right level of property and infrastructure in place to support this.

Could a Great North Plan be the answer? The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR North) recently launched a blueprint for how to develop a Great North Plan into reality.

On first review, a single development plan for the North seems a good idea. We’ve got the Northern Powerhouse, so it would surely be a simple case of transposing these strategies into land-use planning. Right?

Well the answer is maybe. IPPR’s blueprint is just that, a very high level set of ideas, which, whilst laudable, are lacking the detail regarding implementation. It does not give any insight into a number of the key issues in any Great North Plan making process.

Firstly, who would be the body responsible for the plan-making and how is governance achieved? The existing local government structure and city region follows a different approach to decision making.

Would there be a geographically established boundary? Land-use plans usually have a defined extent and area to which policies, growth targets and infrastructure relates.

Would it be truly strategic and joined up? It is difficult to envisage a process which offers a single, agreed approach to growth across the North. Instead, any Plan would no doubt comprise of individual city-region plans, forming chapters of a document. In reality, would this be any different than the current emerging approach for strategic, city-region planning.

And finally, would a Great North Plan be able to tackle the big planning issues such as distribution of development and growth between cities, Green Belt release, new infrastructure locations (HS3, airports growth), identify strategic sites and housing distribution. Or, would it revert to individual local derived objectives?

The Great North Plan is a great start, but what else do we need to put in place? How else can the planning system respond to ensure we deliver these ambitions?

At the International Festival of Business Property Forum recently I heard a number of speakers calling for collaborative visioning and development of an understanding of our core offer to the market as a region, and I agree that it is important for us.

But this is more than just a vision. Land-use plans must have teeth. They must be able to direct development and growth. On top of this we need a streamlined framework and partnership approach, and most importantly we need a fast-track process.

In short when such big growth ambitions are proposed for the north, planning needs to step up and play its part in delivering them.

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Great North Plan, Northern Powerhouse