West of England mayor Tim Bowles chairs a combined authority made up of Bath and North East Somerset Council, Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council. Prior to the mayor's election, the three councils had already begun working up a joint spatial plan (JSP) with North Somerset Council, which is not in the mayor's area.
From May 2018, Bowles will have the power to produce his own spatial development plan for the city-region. But, speaking to Planning at yesterday's Mipim UK property fair in London, he said that he would not decide whether to start drawing up a mayoral spatial plan until the four councils' JSP had been finalised. "It is something we will look at once we've got the JSP in place," he said.
An updated draft of the JSP was due to be published this summer, but is yet to appear. One senior local consultant told Planning last year that it was very unlikely that the JSP would be finalised before the mayor's spatial planning powers kicked in.
But Bowles said it would be counter-productive to jettison the JSP in order to start work on a mayoral spatial plan in May 2018. "Coming in and saying let's stop all the good work that's been going on isn't going to help us deliver," he said.
Initially, at least, the combined authority's role will not be to make a plan, he says, but to help ensure that the four councils' JSP is delivered.
"We've already got a good structure in place in how that joint spatial plan is coming together," he said. "Our key role in this is going to be working with government and other agencies to provide investment around the infrastructure delivery".
With local authorities that come together in formal structures getting favourable funding treatment from central government, collaboration is essential, he argues. "If we come together and keep this combined discussion going with government, it will allow us to unlock very significant degrees of investment," he says. "That will then allow those individual authorities forming that spatial plan to deliver those ambitions".
In the future, Bowles expects the combined authority to have its own planning team. "It will be important that we have a team to provide that strategic planning thinking," he says. He adds that the combined authority will agree a final staffing structure for that team with the local authorities.