In 2015, there is likely to be considerable activity and debate at both ends of the planning spectrum, predicts David Diggle.
The Northern Powerhouse concept was given a further boost in the recent Autumn Statement and the National Infrastructure Plan. This can only be seen as a positive move in creating a more balanced pattern of growth across England, countering the economic drag towards the South East. It has also precipitated a genuine region-wide debate and feel-good factor that will undoubtedly flow well into 2015 and beyond. Greater Manchester, as ever, is taking the lead for others to follow; it will have a new structure of governance and will have the first metro-wide elected mayor outside London.
Big thinking in governance will require big thinking in spatial planning, rising above local political in-fighting to provide a truly spatial framework which is ambitious, bold and transformational and delivers the homes we need and the economic growth we crave. These are exciting times. While it will take time for the strategic plan to take shape, its seeds will be sown in 2015. It is up to all of us to grasp this opportunity.
Coming to a neighbourhood near you?
Whatever the outcome of the General Election in May, the relentless march of neighbourhood planning is likely to continue. In early 2014, the shadow planning minister confirmed that neighbourhood planning would be central to a new plan-making process under a future Labour government, while the Liberal Democrats in a 2014 policy paper, stated their desire to see extra resources and funds provided for such initiatives. Meanwhile, the Conservatives continue to champion neighbourhood plans as a key element of their localism agenda.
So the noise emanating from all political parties is an indicator of a strong desire to give local people greater influence in deciding the right types of development for their community. However, this desire is starting to come at the expense of the strategic requirements to build more homes nationally. This is perhaps best demonstrated by recent decisions by the Secretary of State that have given significant weight to neighbourhood plans, even though the areas in question have no up-to-date local plan and no five-year housing supply. Development proposals which are seen to undermine neighbourhood planning are being kicked into touch regardless of policy compliance.
In 2015, developers are going to have to march to the beat of the neighbourhood planning process and increase engagement with local communities, if they want to increase their chances of gaining approvals.
David Diggle is a director of planning in Turley's Manchester office