Regional planning in need of remodelling

A few rounds of charades can be expected to enliven the festive family get-together over the next fortnight.

Regional assembly members and officers in England have been entering into the spirit of the seasonal game for some time already.

The year started promisingly for regional planning, with legislation putting regional strategies on a statutory footing. Now the fragile consensus is under threat, with critics drawing encouragement from the defeat for an elected assembly in the North East. Since then, tinkering with the South East Plan has reduced house building levels to well short of the region's needs. Last week's East of England Regional Assembly decision to "suspend endorsement" for its draft strategy will result in a regional plan going out for consultation accompanied by a statement that its own authors do not believe it is capable of implementation.

There is an element of mischief-making on the part of Tory politicians in these episodes. But ministers cannot escape a share of the blame for pursuing growth through a plan whose sustainability was never established through appraisal or consultation and for failing to deliver on promises to resolve the infrastructure issue.

With elected regional government off the agenda, a lot depends on making planning structures more effective in tackling regional issues. Regional bodies need to be clear about their objectives, including their stance on central government proposals. The centre needs to be more transparent about its aspirations for individual regions, rather than proceeding in the piecemeal fashion displayed at present. Here's to a happier new year for regional planning.

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