The significance of the planning change was largely lost among the headlines of the multi-million deals devolving cash from Whitehall to finance housing, transport and skills schemes in their area.
Analysis by Planning magazine shows 12 of the 39 LEPs each made a commitment to supporting their local planning authorities and to help them positively engage and cooperate to deliver strategic planning priorities.
Of these, 11 partnerships – including our very own South East LEP – have committed to supporting their district councils to update their Local Plans in line with the timetable submitted as part of the LEP monitoring framework.
What does it mean for Kent and Medway?
With a number of our local authorities still without an NPPF-compliant Local Plan, many officers and councillors will no doubt be wondering what role the LEP may adopt.
A key element of the NPPF requires councils to fulfil the duty to cooperate when determining their respective housing targets. With the local authorities a key constituent on the board of the LEPs, it is clear LEPs could arguably provide this type of function if it had the staff.
Currently each LEP needs to agree a framework with government for how it reports, monitors and evaluates this work before they can secure Local Growth Fund money, and this will inevitably take time. As a result there may be an opportunity for authorities to push ahead with their plans before it is clear what the implications would be should they miss their targets for updating them.
SELEP operates as a federated model with decisions taken locally, in either Kent, Essex or East Sussex, and in Kent’s case via the Kent & Medway Economic Partnership. As a result it will be interesting to see how the various local authorities react to the new planning powers being granted to the regional body.
The word ‘strategic’ planning priorities may also have caused consternation at various county halls, with I’m sure many eager to see the reinstatement of the Strategic Plans lost when the Regional Development Agencies were set up under the last Labour government. It looks like the LEPs have cross-party political support with little prospect of Strategic Plans being revisited.
When it comes to consulting on major planning applications it is clear developers, landowners and investors will now need to consult with LEPs and ensure their projects are consistent with the LEP’s own Growth Deal strategy.