Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Delivering Growth? Evaluating Economic Governance in England's South East Subregions

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Delivering Growth? Evaluating Economic Governance in England's South East Subregions

Article excerpt

Introduction

After the election of the UK coalition government in May 2010, the landscape for subnational economic development in England was comprehensively changed (Bristow, 2013; Pugalis and Townsend, 2013). Alongside significant reductions in public spending, previous programmes for local and regional economic development were substantially removed to be replaced with a new set of structures and funding mechanisms and new local freedoms and responsibilities. In terms of organisational change, subregional Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) were introduced in 2011, reflecting, in particular, Conservative Party criticisms of the regional planning arrangements and Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) that had been introduced under the previous Labour administration. At the same time, the government's localism agenda introduced significant changes to the planning system as well as the institutional and policy landscape for economic growth. In planning, major changes took place with the introduction of the Localism Act 2011 and the National Planning Policy Framework, effective from April 2012, as well as the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013. Additionally, new experiments in urban governance were introduced through 'City Deals' and 'Growth Deals', and new - or rediscovered - mechanisms were established including Enterprise Zones (EZs), the Regional Growth Fund (RGF) and the Growing Places Fund.

One outcome of this restructuring has been a question over the status of so-called 'soft' planning spaces, which had been introduced alongside the regional arrangements cultivated under Labour (Allmendinger and Haughton, 2007; 2012; Haughton, Allmendinger and Oosterlynck, 2013). 'Soft' planning spaces are informal spatial arrangements which operate alongside formal spaces of planning and are related to such formal spaces in complex ways. Such spaces are highly variable; writing at the tail-end of the New Labour era, Allmendinger and Haughton (2010, 811-12), for example, differentiated between three distinct types of soft planning space on the basis of their respective motivations and objectives: 'bottom-up functional' spaces, where local actors prepare strategies and plans for functional areas which do not map onto formal regional or local planning territories; 'shadow' spaces which allow speedier and more flexible interpretation of formal, statutory plans; and 'top-down functional' spaces driven directly by central government initiatives. Hybrid forms combining these various characteristics were also evident. Yet despite such diversity, in the congested governance arena for planning under New Labour it was increasingly these informal, soft spaces where much strategic planning was actually done (Haughton and Allmendinger, 2008, 143). Indeed, soft spaces not only introduced novel planning entities, but were also seen as vehicles for overcoming institutional and policy scleroses, introducing innovative thinking and imagining the future.

Certainly there are senses in which soft spaces represented alternative institutional forms in which to imagine possibilities for future place-making and thereby construct a form of spatial imaginary (Haughton and Allmendinger, 2008, 143). However, it is also clear that the 'soft spaces of governance' considered by Haughton and Allmendinger differ from a notion of 'new political spaces' where what is at stake is 'the transformation of the entire political process' (Boudreau, 2007, 2596). For Boudreau, in examining the creation of Toronto as a competitive global city region, the strategic production of the Toronto region as a political space 'depends on the mobilization of existing spatial imaginaries and the creation of new ones that resonate with residents and users of the city-region' (Boudreau, 2007, 2597, emphasis added). Here:

Spatial imaginaries are mental maps representing a space to which people relate and with which they identify. They are collectively shared internal worlds of thoughts and beliefs that structure everyday life. …

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