Strategic Level Planning

We would define strategic level planning as being the pursuit of longer- term spatial strategies at the level of functional urban regions or above, with a focus on the broad magnitudes and locations of urban growth or restructuring and its relationship with economic development and key infrastructure, including transport. Planning in England has a somewhat chequered history as far as the strategic level is concerned (Scotland perhaps having shown a more consistent commitment). The early postwar period was characterised by a strong focus on regional and strategic goals for the relocation of population and industry, exemplified by the New Towns but incorporating explicit regional policy. In the 1950s this received less emphasis, with more of a shift to the local authority level in the implementation of planning. There was a revival of focus on regional economic planning in the 1960s, but mainly as a top-down addition to the locally based land use planning system, ushering in another period of active regional economic policy. Whilst the latter ran down in the 1970s and 1980s, strategic land use planning got a significant boost with the reorganisation of local government in the 1970s and the introduction of upper tier ‘structure plans’, which were explicitly strategic in character. Although weakened by the abolition of metropolitan level authorities in the mid-1980s, and by the historic rather than functional- region-based boundaries of county councils, structure plans nevertheless provided a strategic focus for the planning of housing, particularly the ‘numbers game’ (see below) and the identification of locations for growth. However, this was a period of relatively low growth and the shift to regeneration and urban revival, and gradually the structure plans were phased out, to be replaced by Regional Planning Guidance (RPG) in the 1990s, which morphed into Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) in the 2000s. The sharpest discontinuity came in 2010, when RSSs were abolished completely, leaving England without any regional planning machinery and without any form of national spatial strategy—the National Planning Framework (NPF) of 2013 is a policy document but not a spatial strategy as such (Baker and Wong 2012).

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