Schemes with a focus on innovation and integration are likely to succeed

The government's move to a localist approach for development decision-making will not diminish planners' key role in smoothing delivery of projects designed to drive economic growth, argues Janice Morphet.

While much of the current concern in planning is focused on austerity and cuts, recent announcements on the government's programme have given priority and protection to infrastructure expenditure.

This was indicated in the emergency budget in June and reinforced in last month's comprehensive spending review.

As more detailed programmes and approaches emerge on this priority, what can we learn for nations, sub-regions and localities and what will planning's role be?

The review has set the economic framework and programme for the UK for the period 2010-2015. which overlaps with the previous 2007-11 review period. The priority for infrastructure is reflected in the £200 billion budget made available for the forthcoming period.

The priorities for using this funding have been more focused on centrally identified projects, particularly for transport, one of the main winners in the new approach.

Looking to the local level, councils may find that they have to use their own balances and assets to underpin new infrastructure, including housing provision.

The scope and definition of infrastructure has also been widened. This can be most clearly seen in the national infrastructure plan 2010. This includes not only energy, transport, water and flooding but also digital communications and intellectual capital, particularly science such as the recently announced East London Tech City.

The plan also commits to action on two areas of continuing concern to planners. The first is to review the regulatory environment within which utilities are currently required to operate and they, along with all sectors, will have investment plans.

Secondly, the funding mechanisms for major projects primarily led by the public sector, such as roads, will be reviewed to change the risk model to enable more private sector investment. Other funding ideas emerging could include infrastructure ISAs and specific investment bond schemes for the individual saver.

The main focus of schemes will be to overcome barriers and bottlenecks. A list of top priority capital investment schemes has been published for the whole of the UK.

Below national level, approaches to investment planning are emerging. In England, the Local Growth white paper, also published last month, and its sub-title "realising every place's potential" give an indication of its intentions.

The paper focuses on investment at sub-regional and local scales. The role of councils in infrastructure investment is reinforced, with particular mention of transport.

The first wave of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) has been established. Although local authorities may see their grants for investment reduced and pooled, it is likely that some funding will re-emerge through LEPs. These will have responsibility for strategic housing, the European regional development cash, rural development and regeneration funds and co-ordinating regional growth fund (RGF) bids.

The RGF has a budget of £1.4 billion over the period and this allows flexibility for skills and job-related training as well as capital works. LEPs, once established, will co-ordinate bids for RGF. Although there may be a temptation to rehash proposals that are oven-ready, schemes focusing on innovation and integrated approaches including housing are likely to be successful.

Lord Heseltine will head the team advising ministers on submitted bids, while Regeneris has published an analysis of which areas are likely to find favour against the new criteria.

There is so much work for planners to do - delivering national priority projects, linking the local to the sub-regional across the UK, ensuring smooth planning processes for all major investment projects and working at neighbourhood and local levels to carry out local investment planning and delivery.

One key feature of capital investment is that some staff costs can be attributed to the development, so planners need to ensure that their staffing costs are included in these programmes. Times are austere, but this investment priority provides opportunities as well as challenges.

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


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