The announcement by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles' that regional spatial strategies will indeed be scrapped spells trouble for housebuilders in the North West, planning advisors warn.
Pickles said in his Parliamentary Statement today: "Regional Strategies added unnecessary bureaucracy to the planning system. They were a failure."
Andrew Watt of Maze Planning, based in Bury, said: "As part of its localism agenda, it appears that the Government prefers the carrot of as yet unspecified incentives to get local authorities to support house building, rather than dictation of top-down housing targets.
"There's no detail yet as to the nature of the incentives, or any associated delivery mechanism, but simply a promise that the matter will be addressed early in the current spending review. This is accompanied by a commitment to consultation on the detail of the measures to introduced, but nothing more definite than that event occurring some time later this year."
The Pickles statement was accompanied by a Q&A document directed at chief planning officers within local authorities. They are expected to continue to prepare their Local Development Frameworks, and these should conform to national housing policy in Planning Policy Statement 3, and also reflect local people's aspirations and decisions on important issues such as climate change, housing and economic development.
On the important question of the vacuum left by the absence of guidance on housing numbers, the Q&A document says:
"Local planning authorities will be responsible for establishing the right level of local housing provision in their area, and identifying a long term supply of housing land without the burden of regional targets."
Councils are urged to quickly signal their intention to undertake an early review of housing targets, if that is what is deemed necessary, so that communities and landowners know where they stand. Alternatively, authorities may simply retain existing targets that were set out in the now defunct RSS documents.
Watt added: "There is potential for a short term delay to any substantive housing applications whilst local authorities determine their individual direction of travel, and perhaps more delay to follow that until the nature of the Government's development carrot is revealed.
"It's certainly going to become more challenging to secure housing permissions in certain authorities, but there's a chance of that being balanced by more opportunities in others keen to nurture development, free from the immediate constraints of the RSS housing numbers.
"Whether those locations match occupier and developer aspirations is an entirely different question altogether."
John Books, Northern planning director at DTZ, said: "The immediate revocation of Regional Spatial Strategies today saw the coalition Government implement its key town planning pledge; removing the regional tier of planning policy within England. Although this move was anticipated and follows a recent letter from Eric Pickles to all Councils, its ramifications are likely to be very significant. Housing schemes, in particular, will be affected as many schemes relied upon regionally set housing targets. With these figures now being revoked, in some cases the primary supporting argument for the application has been removed. This will leave a number of housing schemes heading for refusal."