07/29/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 07/29/2021 07:23
At first sight some will be disappointed that this much-heralded consultation says nothing about the 'what and where' of physical development in the Arc. But we should not be discouraged. This early step towards producing the ASF sets the ball rolling by asking people about what its priorities should be, with sustainability at its core, supported by four policy 'pillars' of environment, economy, connectivity and place-making.
Having set the priorities, the next step in Spring 2022, will be to look at the policy options for delivering on those priorities before publishing a Draft ASF in Autumn 2022.
Some who want to get things moving might be frustrated at what they see as a false start, but it is important to engage with the process from the outset as, when completed, the ASF will be a significant influence in decision making for years to come.
The Spatial Framework will form national planning policy and transport policy for the Arc, guiding development to 2050 and beyond. Once established, local planning and local transport authorities must have regard to it when preparing local transport and local development plans and policies. It will become a material consideration in relevant planning decisions in the area. Local Economic Partnerships and statutory service providers will rely on it to help focus and coordinate economic and investment plans. Its emerging aspirations might only have a limited influence on the current spate of Local Plan revisions, but, if the preparation of the ASF sticks to programme, it will be a more serious player by the time Councils hit their five year plan-review dates.
There are good reasons for not diving into specifics too quickly. With such high ambitions and a broad geography, it is going to be difficult to please everyone and the process of building it ought to be soundly based, inclusive and logical (even if some don't agree with the outcome). Otherwise, the risks of challenge in the Courts will be high. So, although the preparation of the ASF is relatively quick, remember the final draft is to emerge in Autumn 2022, just over a year away, it still has to be done with great care. That is why it needs to be built-up from firm foundations, starting from setting subjective priorities before delving into ideas about objective proposals.
To do this, it is echoing the development plan system, by being backed by an extensive Sustainability Appraisal. That provides a compendium of baseline information about the Arc. When it emerges, it may, like a Local Plan, mean that the Draft ASF ought to be subject to a sharply focused, and brief, examination in public of some sort. That way its 'soundness' can be tested openly. This is important if there are still significant dissenting voices by that stage, particularly amongst the Councils within the Arc. Government may not want to overrule Councils but if there is a robust, weighty and legally sound ASF, then it could be used to trump local concerns when hard strategic decisions have to be made, both in signing-off future Local Plans and in development management decisions.
The current and upcoming rounds of consultation are important building blocks in constructing a strong ASF. Rather like the Local Plan 'duty to cooperate', there is a duty to consult, but not a duty to agree. Reluctant crew members of the Arc, particularly amongst the Councils, might soon find this out. In effect, Government could have to politely and firmly say to them - we hear what you say, but our evidence, analysis and testing means that some locally unpopular decisions might be inevitable if the Arc is to become one of the most prosperous, innovative and sustainable economic areas in the world.