Regional Spatial Strategy – will it deliver in the current economic climate?

Comments from Steven Abbott, Partner

This month should see the end of a typically long process to deliver a Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) for the North West. The RSS sets out Government strategic planning policies for the region over a fifteen to twenty year period. This links economic, social and environmental issues within a framework under which planning applications have to be assessed by local authorities.

"RSS has been developed with the individual nuances of the region in mind. In brief, it seeks to strengthen communities by enhancing our established cities, promoting the notion of a Central Lancashire city region whilst proportionately supporting the roles of towns, other key settlements and other areas in need of regeneration.

"Over the past five years, in much of the region, house builders and land owners have been adversely affected by moratoria on new residential permissions. This has stymied development and collapsed initiative on a massive scale. Unfortunately however, RSS eases the situation just when there are unprecedented collapses in the housing market and land values.

"The result is a conundrum, as the Government requires the construction or formation of millions of new homes by 2020 just when house builders have to contract significantly across the UK.

"Added to this is the additional impact of the emerging Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) element of the Planning Bill; a ‘roof tax’. Local authorities’ optimism that this is a global solution to fund infrastructure and community benefits is quickly being tempered by many house builders and land owners who are having to recalculate the economics of developments everywhere. In simple terms there is not the cash around to secure the scale of monies local authorities had hoped for. This presents a second conundrum.

"With margins already squeezed, this just isn’t the time to demand unrealistic financial obligations. The housing sector is thus anxiously watching how the intended CIL regulations will be framed and translated into policies through the local development frameworks local authorities now have to produce under the RSS umbrella.

"In a climate where there is now little incentive to develop in the first place, it is vital that the Government reviews the delivery of its housing requirements in concert with the development industry and local authorities. The RSS signifies a more positive chapter than the last one for the North West region but unless there is Government led pragmatism to reflect what is actually happening on the ground, the house building industry will continue to suffer – and it certainly will not deliver the homes so urgently needed."