Tories moot return to county strategy

The Conservatives are considering reviving county structure plans in place of regional spatial strategies (RSSs), Planning has learnt.

The move emerged at the party's annual conference this week amid promises of radical planning proposals to be published in a green paper by the end of the year.

The party has already pledged to scrap RSSs immediately if it gets into power after next year's general election. But shadow communities minister Stewart Jackson revealed that policy between local and national levels will be introduced.

"The planning paper will be pretty radical. RSSs will be gone within a week. What replaces them might take a bit longer," he told a regeneration seminar:

Pressed further, Tory communities spokesman John Howell told Planning that county structure plans could be the solution. "There is concern from industry that there should be policy above the district level," he said. "That could be at a county level. There are attractions to this because it will be democratically accountable."

But planners expressed concern that alternative strategic policies will not be in place before regional plans are abolished. Town and Country Planning Association chief executive Gideon Amos said: "There is a huge risk of planning delay if RSSs are abolished in advance of anything to replace them."

CB Richard Ellis planner Nick Cuff added: "There will be a policy gap. The local development framework (LDF) process shows it can take years for these things to happen. I would not be surprised if there was a U-turn."

Meanwhile, shadow planning minister Bob Neill suggested that LDFs would be revised under a Tory government: "We will get councils to assess what is needed in their communities."

His comment follows a letter to Conservative councils from shadow communities secretary Caroline Spelman saying authorities would be able to undo unwanted policies imposed by RSSs.

- For more on latest Tory thinking, see page 2.

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