Why a pioneering joint spatial plan could point the way for a new generation of strategic plans

The progress of the West of England Joint Spatial Plan (JSP) will be a key test of a new generation of strategic plans, according to practitioners.

Bristol: city council one of four authorities behind joint plan
Bristol: city council one of four authorities behind joint plan

The plan, which was submitted last week to the Planning Inspectorate for examination, has been prepared jointly by four authorities in the Greater Bristol area, and is claimed to be the first of a new wave of JSPs to reach this stage.

Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, South Gloucestershire Council and North Somerset Council have joined forces to produce the plan, which is due to go forward for examination in the autumn. The plan defines its remit as addressing "critical issues", including identifying housing and employment need and key strategic locations for growth.

Catriona Riddell, strategic planning convenor for the Planning Officers Society, says the difficulty of navigating the duty to co-operate on local plan preparation was a key driver in the move to preparing a joint spatial plan.

"Bristol has been struggling to meet its own needs, and there was a recognition at an early stage of the need for work on a more formal basis to make sure the plan was delivered," she says. While various core strategies and local plans have been produced jointly over recent years, Riddell says this is the first of a new style of joint plan which seeks to deal exclusively with key strategic issues.

The objectively-assessed housing need for the area, the plan says, is 97,800 new homes during the period 2016-36. To meet this, it sets a housing goal of 102,200 new homes, but identifies sites for 105,500 homes "to enable flexibility".

With existing local plans having already allocated sites for 61,500 of the new homes, the JSP has the task of planning the remaining 44,000. In doing this, it distributes the housing allocations between the four authorities, with Bristol City taking the largest amount at 33,500, followed by South Gloucestershire (32,500), North Somerset (25,000) and Bath and North East Somerset (14,500). To help deliver the targets, the plan identifies 12 greenfield strategic development locations, three of which would be new garden villages and five of which are in the green belt.

Simon Prescott, partner at consultancy Barton Willmore’s Bristol office, welcomes the production of the joint plan as "absolutely the right thing to do". But he argues that the government’s soon to be introduced standard methodology for housing need and other estimates of need point to higher levels of between 116,500 and 140,000 homes being required.

"I’ve been a bit concerned that the existence of the green belt has unduly influenced the plan-making process, so I don’t think we have got the right plan yet," he says. "If we can’t get proper strategic planning right in this area then it will set a really bad precedent across the country."

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