Regional enforcement gathers pace

Co-operation offers the key to regional strategy reform with a deliverable plan that sets priorities for future investment, argues Janice Morphet.

The debate on the future role of regional spatial strategies (RSSs) has focused on changes after the general election. Less has been said about the regional strategies that will replaced them, outlined in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill.

The revision of regional strategies was foreshadowed in the 2007 sub-national review (SNR). The consultation shows how the new plans will differ from RSSs. Their main economic role will subsume transport, housing and culture and they will have a strong spatial dimension. Strategies are expected to have a strong evidence base and a deliverable implementation plan.

For existing RSSs, only the statutory development plan element will continue until it has been revised. Any work carried out to amend RSSs before legislation is finalised can be taken into account in the new strategies likely to come into effect next year. They will be the responsibility of the leaders' boards and regional development agencies (RDAs).

The current approach to RSSs could be described as hierarchical or top-down. It will shift its style into being a co-operative strategy. The economic importance of the sub-region was recognised in the SNR and underlined. These may represent journey-to-work areas, but they can also be made up from natural areas such as national parks and coastal areas.

This wider definition could develop sub-regions such as multi-area agreements outside urban areas. Regional strategies will work across boundaries into London, which is not covered by the bill's provisions, and into Scotland and Wales. Each will be accompanied by a deliverable implementation plan that sets priorities for investment, notably for public bodies such as the Homes and Communities Agency and the DfT.

This process may result in a change in the volume of regional expenditure. The New Local Government Network estimates that about five per cent of regional expenditure is influenced from within regions. But it argues that this figure could increase to 40 per cent of government expenditure in regions included in this system.

The implementation plans for regional strategies mirror the requirements for infrastructure delivery for local development frameworks (LDFs). They are expected to be detailed over the first three to five years and identify budgets for delivery. The regional leaders' boards and RDAs are likely to maximise the alignment of resources from public and private sectors and monitor delivery annually. Like the LDF, the plans focus on the public sector.

The introduction of regional strategies will place emphasis on the preparation of infrastructure delivery plans as part of the LDF. This will be critical to securing available funding in the next spending review for the period from 2011 to 2014.

Consultation on the policy statement on regional strategies and guidance on establishing leaders' boards is open until 30 October at the DCLG and Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

Janice Morphet is a director of RMJM Consulting and visiting professor at University College London's Bartlett School of Planning.

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