Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Sub-Regional Strategic Spatial Planning: The Use of Statecraft and Scalecraft in Delivering the English Model

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Sub-Regional Strategic Spatial Planning: The Use of Statecraft and Scalecraft in Delivering the English Model

Article excerpt

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to consider the introduction of strategic spatial planning in England associated with emerging governance models at sub-regional scales. The argument set out here is that since the publication of the Sub-national Review of Economic Development and Regeneration (SNR) by the government (HMT, 2007), there has been a demonstrable underlying policy persistence for sub-regional scales. Strategic planning powers for directly elected mayors commenced in the year 2000 with the election of a mayor for London, and subsequently followed in six new combined authorities for quasi-Functional Economic Areas (FEAs) in May 2017, with more expected in 2018. While these combined authorities do not cover much land area, they comprise major centres of population. This article argues that this policy has a trajectory that will extend beyond any changes in the EU-UK relationship post-Brexit. The examination of this persistence will be by agenda-setting analysis and will consider this within the mechanisms of statecraft and scalecraft. Agenda-setting policy analysis has more frequently been used in political studies, providing a tool to consider why underlying policies persist over time and across governments of different political ideologies, using alternative delivery modes. While most public policy for England is episodic in character, with the principle that each government is not bound by its predecessor, this article will also consider the cumulative policy-making approach that has been associated with the insertion of a sub-regional governance tier in England.

The abolition of regional spatial planning in England, together with most of the other quasi-democratic regional institutional apparatus, including regional development agencies, regional assemblies and government offices, was included in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 by the then Labour government and hastened to its demise by its successor, the coalition government, in 2010. While regions have disappeared as functional governance areas, they have remained as descriptive groupings for government projects and programmes (see, for example, National Infrastructure and Ports Authority, 2016; DBEIS, 2017). At the same time, there has been a persistent rise in sub-regions as the dominant spatial policy scale. Since the SNR in 2007 and over the course of three governments between 2007 and 2017, Labour, coalition and Conservative, the development of sub-regions from informal and undemocratic programme areas to newly aligned government spaces has not specifically addressed the issue of strategic planning. Rather, the focus of these new informal but transitional sub-regional spaces has been economic and represented a continuation of quasi-devolved but centrally controlled programmes (Pemberton and Morphet, 2014). These programmes have incorporated EU and domestic funding using 'growth' and 'devolution' 'deals' for infrastructure investment and programmes of business support (Ward, 2015; Pugalis et al., 2016).

Using powers under both the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 and the subsequent Devolution and Cities Act 2016, this sub-regional policy takes a further step forward in 2017 as the first six English combined authorities and Cornwall have their devolved powers set in Parliamentary orders. These combined authorities are sub-regional groups of local authorities and their boundaries are a coalescence of administrative and approximate functional economic areas. Democratic accountability for the combined authorities is through directly elected mayors with executive powers, scrutinised by elected authority members who have no specific powers apart from approving the mayor's budget. All these new mayors will have executive powers for strategic planning as well as for the allied areas of housing, transport, business development and regeneration. Apart from the West Midlands, these mayors will be able to exercise their strategic planning powers without the agreement of the local authorities in their areas should they so wish. …

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