Dave Valler is Reader in Planning, School of the Built Environment at Oxford Brookes, and Chair of the RSA London and South East Branch. His research interests range across local and regional economic development, urban theory and politics, sub-national governance and policy, and science/hi-tech spaces. He has recently published research specifically on theoretical and practical planning and governance issues in the South East including questions of urban political dissonance (Territory, Politics, Governance 2018), local planning cultures and legacies (Planning Theory and Practice 2018), economic governance evaluation (Town Planning Review 2016), and planning for high-tech growth (Environment and Planning C 2014; Town Planning Review 2012).
Housing affordability, local political fiefdoms and the perception that London and the Wider South East gets more than its fair share of investment were identified as key strategic planning challenges at the symposium Realising the Economic Potential of the Wider South East, hosted at the central London offices of Arup, 25th October 2019.
Contributions included keynotes from John Denham (Southern Policy Centre), Chris Tunnell (ARUP), and Dame Kate Barker (National Infrastructure Commission & Industrial Strategy Council), together with further insights from Catriona Riddell (Catriona Riddell Associates), Hilary Chipping (South East Midlands LEP), Rupert Clubb (Transport for the South East) and by videolink Tom Wright (Regional Plan Association New York).
Messages from the keynote speakers included the need to reframe the London/regional question by drawing out areas of commonality and mutual dependency, appealing to broader agendas around inclusivity, affordability, immigration, climate emergency and intra-regional issues, and promoting ‘real-world collaboration’ (Denham); understanding London and the wider South-East as a single functional geography, with the associated need for spatial modelling and a region-wide evidence base (Tunnell); and needs for sub-regional political unity to attract government investment, a commitment to inclusive growth, and a focus on place-making and appropriate housing mix as the basis for spatial planning and development (Barker).
Progress on the Oxford-Cambridge Arc was seen as mixed, with agreements broadly in place around East-West rail connections but significant contention over the proposed Expressway, governance structures for the Arc currently lagging, and limited progress on an overall spatial vision.
As part of the meeting the invited audience of around 60 strategic planners and influencers was asked to vote on a number of questions facing the wider region. The results of this (highly unscientific!) poll highlighted interesting issues:
Q1. What is the greatest challenge facing the wide South-East?
- Housing affordability (approx 44% of votes)
- Environmental degradation (16%)
- Low density development (13%)
Q2. What is the greatest barrier to more joined-up working?
- Political fiefdoms (38%)
- Lack of government enthusiasm (31%)
Q3. What is the greatest challenge to attracting investment in L&WSE
- Perception that LWSE gets more than its fair share (27%)
- No clear regional voice (27%)
Recommendations pointed towards the establishment of a stronger evidence base for regional and sub-regional planning, and building on the foundation of the LWSE group as the basis for some form of informal regional organisation and sounding board. A personal reflection would highlight ongoing governance deficits; while sub-regional strategic planning is being reconstructed in various ways, there is considerable fragility in these arrangements and little basis for region-wide thinking. The wider institutional context remains highly fragmented, while central government has been increasingly consumed by Brexit.
Thanks are due to symposium organiser Corinne Swain, Duncan Bowie (coordinator of the LWSE group) and ARUP who hosted the event. Presentations from the event will shortly be made available on the London and wider South-East website: http://wseplanningnetwork.org/
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