Halman on ... Endgame for regional draft

Planners in the North West are looking forward to the final stages of the regional spatial strategy (RSS), which seemed to begin aeons ago.

Uncertainties over it will soon be removed and the hesitancy with which some authorities have approached local development frameworks can be set aside. While it is not over until communities secretary Hazel Blears approves it in February, policy will be settled very shortly.

This will be the last RSS produced by the North West Regional Assembly because all future RSS revisions will be made by regional development agencies. This should avoid the squabbles that arise between two powerful regional bodies trying to knit spatial planning and economic policy together.

And yet the North West still underachieves in economic terms. With growth of 3.7 per cent, it is under the national average and well below the South East. A focus on what needs to be done to achieve faster yet still sustainable economic development is crucial. An early review of the RSS is on the cards.

While it is an oversimplification to say that growth here is influenced by land availability in the South East, it is not irrelevant either. So the government's apparent willingness to look to the green belt to make a contribution is worrying.

Simplifying the tiers of planning is the key to speeding up the process generally. One recent proposal is to scrap the county council tier. Currently both the counties and the assembly are consulted on major applications. Recent experience shows that they largely point out policies of which local planners are well aware. So you do wonder what value they are adding to decision-making.

- Gary Halman is a partner at commercial planning adviser HOW and immediate past chairman of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors planning and development faculty. The views expressed are his own.

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