At the moment my Council is finalising a draft Local Development Framework (LDF) Core Strategy document* to go for consultation in the latter part of the year in order to guide plans for the future. This has become a more complex issue since the coalition government came to power because much of the previous regional ‘top down’ framework has been torn up. Such arrangements make community planning and the development of local vision extremely important, because they will now be a much more direct driver of change than before.
From a localist perspective this is a positive move, but it makes planning more tricky and also more contentious, because there is no longer the opportunity seek refuge in explanations of central control, for example that the figures for growth were forced upon a place from on high. In fact what ought to happen is a more active debate about the rights and wrongs of particular pieces of large infrastructure.
Once the plan is set out, some things will be easier and no different from the previous regime. Neighbourhood development, for example, or the public sector capital strategy for the area. However the balancing of major infrastructure on a national, regional or sub-regional level has become harder because there are now really no agreed priorities to take account of.
The Coalition Government also announced that it will introduce a new Planning Framework. A return to detailed wide area planning could be a retrograde step and avoid proper public debate on key issues. However a well thought-through method for brokering the various public interest and local identity questions would be extremely useful. This is where local democracy, public engagement and public choice really needs to be worked through. These are high stakes, because they involve the balancing of social, economic and environmental choice on matters that will have an impact on places for generations. At the national level, what we do with regard to transport, employment, housing, power and waste will be critical to future survival on all three of these points. yet when it comes down to it, the question surely is simple: What’s the right thing to do?
*An LDF guides the planning of where infrastructure, housing and employment should be placed within a given area. It is a suite of documents headed by a “Core Strategy” which is intended to be the spatial expression of the local vision for a place