Coalition’s Queen’s speech sets out plans to give more power to councils and ditch regional spatial strategies

The coalition government today confirmed plans to scrap regional spatial strategies and Regional Development Agencies with the new government’s first Queen’s speech.

The speech laid out plans for a Decentralisation and Localism Bill which, as well as scrapping the housing targets held within regional spatial strategies, will also see the Infrastructure Planning Commission, set up to drive planning of major projects, abolished.

The Queen said the bill was designed to “devolve greater powers to councils and neighbourhoods and give local communities control over housing and planning decisions.”

In practice the bill will include measures to:

  • Abolish regional spatial strategies, returning relevant housing and planning powers to local councils
  • Abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects
  • Create Local Enterprise Partnerships to replace Regional Development Agencies, described as “joint local authority-business bodies brought forward by local authorities to promote local economic development”
  • Create a development corporation to deliver the Olympic legacy development
  • Abolish Home Information Packs
  • Create trusts to enable communities to provide homes for local people.

The changes are all widely anticipated parts of the Conservative party’s pre-election manifesto, with most of the measures also supported by the Liberal Democrat’s manifesto. The coalition has already faced widespread criticism over its plans to abolish the current planning regime before setting up an alternative system.

The Conservatives have proposed replacing housing targets with a system of financial incentives to encourage councils to allow homes to be built, but there is no mention of this in the Queen’s speech.

Ann Skippers, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute said: “Moves towards giving local communities more power are welcome; but we feel there is a real danger in hastily abolishing regional planning. The abolition of regional planning will leave a vacuum in terms of the policy needed to give the certainty to take major investment decisions that will help get us out of recession.”

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, welcomed the speech, but said: ““Bringing in a democratically accountable system for major infrastructure will be key to delivering large projects. We need to be realistic about how much power we can devolve to councils. Many aspects of planning and regeneration are highly complex and will require resources which many councils will struggle with. Planners are losing their jobs to help keep police and nurses in their posts, and there is a large amount of concern over how local authorities will be able to manage all these extra responsibilities with less staff.”