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Local Growth Deals and the Local Growth Fund

This briefing looks at the details and implications of the growth deals and the LGF allocations for local economic leadership in general, and for local authorities (LAs) in particular.
Local authorities – especially members and officers responsible for LEP relations, economic development, and services (like planning, transport, skills) which make a major contribution to economic growth – should be aware of the details of their local ‘deal’ and their contribution to its effective delivery.
More broadly, members and officers involved in deliberations and negotiations within the LA community, and with central government, about enhanced devolution and central-local relations, will be aware that this area of activity will be a key feature of debate in the run up to the 2015 general election. This debate will influence the priorities of the incoming 2015-20 government.

A call for councils to protect pubs

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Claire Cain, CAMRA’s Campaigns Manager, writes about the importance of community pubs and the part that councils can play in keeping them open. This is a call from CAMRA to ask all councils to utilise available powers and tools to …

Emerging models for leadership and governance of local economic development

This briefing reviews emerging models for leadership and governance of local economic growth and development (LED).
* A number of issues for Local Authorities’ (LA) economic leadership are raised by recent LED developments. Notable among these are Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) formulation of strategic economic plans (SEPs) and EU structural and investment fund strategies (SIFs); and the inception of four new Combined Authorities (CAs) for northern ‘city regions’ (Leeds, Liverpool, North East, and Sheffield).
* The briefing describes the CA ‘model(s)’, and the current government consultation on its evolution. It also considers alternatives to CAs that LAs, LEPs and other partners are seeking to pursue.
* It outlines a number of questions and issues that LAs may wish to address in determining how LED leadership and governance should develop in its area. This is relevant to LA involvement in influencing the 2015 general election campaign, and the priorities of the incoming 2015-20 government.
* Members and officers in all tiers of council involved in economic growth and with their LEPs, together with those responsible for broader governance reforms will find the briefing of particular relevance.

Progress on the Government’s Roads Reform Programme

Summary

• In July 2013, the Government published the Action for Roads Command Paper, setting out a series of proposals for roads policy to 2021, including the development of a Roads Investment Strategy (RIS) and a proposal to turn the Highways Agency into a government-owned company.
• The Department for Transport (DfT) consulted on its proposals for the Highways Agency in late 2013 and has recently published its response to that consultation, confirming their intentions to proceed with the proposed reforms. It is anticipated that the legislation required to make these changes will be included in this year’s Queen’s speech.
• Action for Roads also proposed that the Highways Agency would undertake route based strategies for the whole of England’s motorway and trunk road network. The evidence reports which will inform these strategies have recently been published, setting out the current performance issues and future challenges for each route. The final strategies are expected to be completed by March 2015.
• In addition, the DfT has also recently published the terms of reference for six feasibility studies into ‘the most notorious and long-standing road hot spots in the country’. These studies are being taken forward alongside the route based strategy process but are expected to report before the 2014 Autumn Statement. Both the feasibility studies and the route based strategies will be used to inform the first RIS.
• A further related development is the National Networks National Policy Statement (NN NPS) which was published in draft form for consultation earlier this year. This sets out the policy for determining whether nationally significant road and rail projects should be granted development consent.
• This briefing will be of interest to elected members and officers with responsibility for transport, planning and economic development.

The Retail Sector: Update

In March 2013, the BIS Select Committee began its inquiry into the retail industry. Its report was published in 2014. The Committee’s inquiry focussed on government support for the retail sector, including progress made in implementing the recommendations of the Portas Review.
The Committee was told that all the money for the Portas pilots had been allocated but no figures had been supplied to the Committee by the time its report was submitted for publication. The Committee concluded that the government had not been able to provide evidence of how or indeed whether the Portas money had been spent by local authorities.
There is a very long section in the Committee’s report on business rates. In the conclusion, it is stated that “If there is one thing that this report urges the Government to do, it is to reform business rates”.
This briefing mostly deals with the BIS Select Committee’s report, but also provides an update on the on-going debate about retail and high streets provided in earlier briefings. It will be of interest to a wide range of officers and members in all types of authority with an interest in finance, town centre management, planning, regeneration, and economic development.

Planning in the countryside: current issues

Summary

• This briefing covers a number of current issues of particular interest to local planning authorities with responsibility for rural areas, focusing particularly on permitted development rights, protected landscapes, renewable and low-carbon energy and rural housing.
• The written statement on local planning made by Planning Minister Nick Boles on 6 March 2014 included the Government’s decision on the latest proposals to extend permitted development rights for agricultural buildings to allow them to be converted to residential use without planning permission a move which could have significant implications for some rural areas.
• The 6 March statement also launched the final version of the new Planning Practice Guidance (PPG). The LGIU is producing a separate briefing on the PPG but this briefing highlights the sections of particular relevance to rural areas including light pollution, minerals, protected landscapes, renewable and low carbon energy and rural housing.
• Other planning-related announcements and policy developments in recent months with particular implications for rural areas include proposals to provide increased benefits to communities hosting wind farms and to introduce a ten-unit threshold for affordable housing section 106 contributions.
• This briefing will be of interest to elected members and officers with responsibility for planning and the natural environment in rural areas.

The first Community Energy Strategy: opportunities for local authorities

* The Community Energy (CE) strategy provides a framework for support to increase the role of community groups in the distribution, production and saving of energy; with the aim of contributing to national carbon reduction targets, energy efficiency, local resilience, reductions in fuel poverty and localism.
* It has been developed closely with the various CE groups and coalitions in the UK, and enjoys their broad support. While the focus of the strategy is on communities, the vital role of local authorities in facilitating and co-driving local decentralised energy and energy efficiency is a significant part of the strategy.
* The strategy mainly announces incentives and initiatives which cover England, recognising that in Scotland and Wales, support systems and funding for CE groups already exists and good lessons can be learnt. It will be of interest to those working across different types of local authorities, especially in community engagement, energy and planning.

Update on Fracking

On 13 January 2014, David Cameron announced that councils would be able to keep 100 per cent of business rates they collect from shale gas sites. This adds to community benefits already agreed with the extraction industry of £100,000 when a test well is fracked and a further 1 per cent of revenues if shale gas is discovered. The Government has offered considerable support for the exploration and possible development of shale gas, despite the controversy surrounding the associated technique of fracking. Water contamination and seismic disturbances are among the associated environmental risks. This briefing deals with what is known so far about shale and oil and gas deposits in the UK, the associated risks and possible benefits, and the regulatory regime governing onshore exploration and development. It will be of interest to members and officers in all tiers of local government with an interest in environmental sustainability, local economic development, and planning.

National Infrastructure Plan

The National Infrastructure Plan 2013 brings together analysis of the UK’s infrastructure needs to 2020 across different sectors setting out the government’s approach to identifying and delivering that need.

Whilst many of the major investment decisions are made by government, the Plan contains specific projects in the localities of many local authorities and has broader implications in their responsibilities for housing and planning. It also covers the Government’s approach to encouraging local infrastructure and economic growth.

The Plan announces moves to treat planning conditions as approved where they have failed to discharge a condition on time together with making a Local Plan a statutory requirement.

The Government is also undertaking a review of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning Regime with a focus on streamlining the process. Introducing a specialist Planning Court to tackle delays to infrastructure delivery which are taken to judicial review. It has also published for consultation a draft National Networks National Policy Statement.

This briefing will be of interest to cabinet portfolio members and officers with responsibilities for economic development, regeneration, housing and planning.

What does the Autumn Statement 2013 spell for local government?

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This is a statement which recognises that growth begins on our local high streets. Business rates will be discounted for SMEs and payments scheduled over 12 months. In welcome news for finance directors across the land HM Treasury has pledged …