Does the new focus on industrial strategy require new types of planning, by David Marlow

Theresa May's prioritisation of a 'proper industrial strategy', and its elevation to headline prominence in Greg Clark's new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is a major opportunity for planners and their local growth colleagues.

We need to help answer the question 'what changes Theresa May has in mind from the, presumably 'improper' strategy she has inherited?'. After all, this had a range of macro-economic, fiscal, investment and trade measures; a focus on eleven industrial sectors and eight "great technologies"; and complementary skills, finance and innovation measures.

The former industrial strategy was fairly silent on planning. It features strongly in the "Fixing the Foundations" National Productivity Plan - but mainly as a blockage to housing delivery. May and Clark need to be persuaded that local planning has a lot to offer to new industrial strategy.

Early BEIS announcements have been dominated by concerns on foreign ownership of industries and technologies (ARM), the priority of establishing new long-term trading relationships post-referendum, and uncertainties around delivery of mega-projects from Hinkley to HS2.

However Clark has spoken of the need for a stronger place-based dimension in a new strategy, and reaffirmed the commitment to devolution to achieve these ends. May has located industrial strategy at the cent
re of addressing spatial social and economic divisions prominently exposed by the referendum.

Local growth and planning teams are already assessing the impact and risks of BREXIT on their local economies. NLP, for instance, has published an analysis of Experian forecasts. Whilst lowering growth forecasts everywhere, the paper identifies significant differential LEP and regional level impacts of a possible BREXIT. The largest downside risks appear to face Coventry and Warwickshire, Cumbria, Humberside, and the North East.

Local industrial strategies should be a major component of mitigating these risks, and will need to be bolder than ever in the current context.

For local plans, bold industrial strategy implies game-changing policies and interventions. Building major industrial and innovation districts, facilitating university expansion to anchor knowledge economy growth, reassuring business that their investments are and will be supported, is crucial.

With BEIS now assuming the energy remit, and given enduring questions on Hinkley and fracking, the case for energy and decarbonisation to be a major cross-cutting strategic planning theme is compelling - on climate change, industrial security and costs, and green economy grounds.

Local plans can also have a much more nuanced approach to supporting service industries alongside the more muscular national manufacturing flagships. NESTA's recent "UK Geography of creativity" showed digital and creative employment growing four times faster than the national average. Both digital infrastructure and quality of place needs to be at the forefront of local industrial strategy.

If May and Clark's 'proper' industrial strategy is not to look awfully like the old strategies from Mandelson to Cable and Javid, the new ingredient must be a much stronger bottom-up place-based component.

For that component to be credible, planners and their local growth colleagues need to showcase their abilities to deliver
and support big ticket initiatives like innovation districts, energy, green economy, digital and creative industries development.


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