Learning from framework examples

Changes to planning policy and delivery across Europe offer insights on how approaches to localism might operate, explains Janice Morphet

The localism bill is awaited with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. What changes will it bring and how will planning be able to optimise the potential offered?

The key components are emerging - a framework for England which may or may not be spatial, sub-regional co-operative arrangements based on current local authority boundaries and a series of neighbourhood plans, probably on a parish base.

Although this may sound very different from the current system, it seems likely that it will maintain some key components of it. The duty to involve may be reinforced and infrastructure delivery planning moved to the sub-region.

Those interested in the planning system in England could be forgiven for seeing these changes as a unique response to post-election circumstances. But there are similar approaches going on elsewhere in the UK. Spatial plans and frameworks in Wales and Scotland have many similar characteristics despite differences in format. Also in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, there is a similar focus on functional economic areas at sub-state, city-region or cross-border levels.

Perhaps at some time in the future, components of these UK spatial frameworks will be brought together in a single investment programme for nationally significant infrastructure or to identify those locations that are most vulnerable and need most protection at a national level.

Undertaking this scale of planning is also not new. In 1992, the Baltic Sea region developed an approach that focused on "pearls, strings and patches". Pearls were areas to protect and enhance, while patches were those areas that needed more attention because they had challenges of very high growth, environmental issues or specific characteristics such as islands. Finally the strings were the transport, utility and telecoms networks that connected them and how these needed to be improved.

Since then, the Baltic Sea Plan has developed into full investment programmes that seek to combine a variety of funds to support its future, including those from national governments, the EU and local sources.

This is not the only location changing its spatial planning approach from policy to delivery. In Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands, planning reforms are also under way which appear similar to those expected for England. They feature less central prescription at the local level, more definition of government interest and a combining of local investment through integrated programmes.

Many of these reforms can be linked back to the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty which will be operational from 2013. This has two new requirements - to implement for territorial as well as economic and social cohesion and extending the application of subsidiarity - taking decisions at the lowest appropriate level. Are these the provenance of localism?

- Janice Morphet is a director of RMJM Consulting and visiting professor at University College London's Bartlett School of Planning.

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