Post-COVID-19 planning for levelling up in West Yorkshire
Planning ahead and measures to spread prosperity into the English regions
Whilst the March 2020 Budget may seem like a distant memory which was delivered when the world was a very different place, it included policy initiatives that could contribute to the post-COVID-19 recovery. These include commitments to ‘level up’ the economy by employing measures to spread prosperity into the English regions. Notably, the Budget sketched out the basis of the long-anticipated devolution deal for West Yorkshire. In line with earlier devolution deals, it is predicated on West Yorkshire establishing a Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA) with a directly elected Mayor. The possible range of devolved powers identified in the Budget includes transport, skills – and also planning.
So what planning powers could be productively employed at a West Yorkshire level? Perhaps a good place to start is to consider whether there are any obvious gaps or omissions when it comes to the existing powers enjoyed by the West Yorkshire authorities and look to address those. It should also be borne in mind at the outset that authorities are going to need a good deal of convincing before they cede their planning powers to another body, particularly when there has been a steady erosion of their decision-making powers over the past few years with the expansion of permitted development rights. Also, given the relatively heterogeneous economic geography of West Yorkshire and the fact that it incorporates a number of strategic and local housing markets, the contribution that a Greater Manchester style spatial strategy could make to growth in the area is questionable. On the assumption that potential planning interventions could involve delivering infrastructure to support development that crosses local authority boundaries, one area which could merit consideration is compulsory purchase powers. With this in mind, one distinct advantage that the West Yorkshire MCA could have when compared to its constituent authorities is the ability to pursue a single focussed cross-border compulsory purchase order which could more effectively articulate the sub-regional benefits of the scheme.
There has been a good deal of cross-party political support for the devolution agenda to date and the pressing need to reboot the economy post-COVID-19 means that this is unlikely to change. However, when it comes to deciding what powers should be exercised at what level, there has been no consensus. The sensitivities around who exercises planning powers are particularly acute and care needs to be taken when making choices to maximise the effectiveness of planning as a tool for levelling out.
If the information in the above update raises any issues or concerns, please speak to Bob Pritchard on firstname.lastname@example.org.