In late-2017 the Greater Nottingham authorities took the decision to prepare a joint strategic plan to replace the current three aligned Core Strategies presently in place. The Greater Nottingham Strategic Plan (GNSP) will be a statutory development plan providing strategic level policies and site allocations to inform the future review of authorities’ Local Plans. There is a well-established structure in place, the Greater Nottingham Planning Partnership, to guide joint planning work in the city region, and which is successfully now progressing the GNSP. This case study identifies the issues and challenges that have arisen since 2019 and highlights some key learning points that are more generally applicable to strategic planning work of this nature.
In 2019 the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) invited groups of local authorities wishing to develop a joint strategic plan to bid for independent support to help with this work. This case study reflects the background, outcomes to date and learning points from the work undertaken by local authorities of Broxtowe, Erewash in Derbyshire, and Gedling and Rushcliffe, together with Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council, in Greater Nottingham Authorities, with support from consultants Intelligent Plans and Examinations (IPE), appointed by PAS.
The work to inform this case study was largely undertaken during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020.and early-2021. Consequently, there were some restrictions on the type of engagement that could take place, although this did not pose a major constraint to the progress of the work.
The Greater Nottingham local authorities, together with the County Council, have a successful track record of co-operation and joint working on strategic planning issues affecting the city region, having previously worked on Aligned Core Strategies across the area, and more recently on a Statement of Common Ground to underpin the emerging GNSP. Strong collaboration at both the political and officer levels is a key feature of the approach to joint working in Greater Nottingham.
The decision to replace the Aligned Core Strategies with a GNSP was taken in December 2017 in order to address the growth requirements for the city region up to 2038 at a strategic level. It was recognised at the outset that a strategic approach that considers growth needs across administrative boundaries would be necessary, in terms of meeting housing requirements with the possibility of strategic development locations; meeting the opportunities to be provided by the HS2 high-speed railway station to be built at Toton to the west of Nottingham; securing the delivery of other key transport infrastructure; and planning for strategic green and blue infrastructure provision.
Initial work focused on the identification of the necessary evidence studies that should be prepared to inform the Plan. Work on those studies commenced, where necessary by external consultants. A key document was the Growth Options Study, commissioned from consultants, and which provided the principal growth scenarios for the city region as a whole. This study enabled the Regulation 18 consultation document to be prepared in early-2020, with consultation taking place in Summer 2020.
The GNSP is addressing a range of strategic issues in Greater Nottingham for the period up to 2038, including meeting the housing and employment requirements for the area, securing the necessary supporting strategic infrastructure and taking account of national projects including HS2.
The decision was taken during the preparation of the draft Regulation 18 Issues and Options consultation document that the Plan should be structured around a number of strategic themes, such as ‘Living in Greater Nottingham’; ‘Working in Greater Nottingham’; ‘The City Centre and Town Centres’; and ‘Designing Good Places’. This affords the opportunity for the Plan to take a more holistic and linked approach to policy development, where, for example, the provision of green and blue infrastructure and recreational opportunities are as integral to the strategic development sites, as well-designed housing, the provision of supporting community infrastructure and providing sustainable transport links.
The published Regulation 18 consultation document reflects that thematic approach, and was well received by stakeholders and the public, with overall a far more positive and encouraging response than is often the case with planning documents.
Ongoing policy development work towards the Regulation 19 pre-submission Plan is continuing to follow that approach, and two workshops for Councillors and senior Officers held in January and February 2021 were invaluable in securing wide measures of agreement on the relevant policy issues.
Although the project has been delayed by some 4-6 months since its inception, there remains a strong commitment within the authorities to maintain its progress, with submission of the Draft Plan for examination presently scheduled for mid-2022.
Governance Structure and Working Arrangements
The governance structure and working arrangements for joint planning in Greater Nottingham are very well established through the ‘Greater Nottingham Planning Partnership’ (GNPP) and represent a model for such arrangements in a city region, particularly in its involvement of the upper tier authority, Nottinghamshire County Council.
The proactive role being taken by the County Council in the GNPP cannot be under-estimated, as it is critical to providing inputs and expertise on many aspects of the Plan, but especially on infrastructure delivery.
The preparation of a strategic plan involving six authorities is a complex task, necessitating the commitment of officer and political resources by each of the authorities concerned over a number of years. The Greater Nottingham authorities are fortunate in that effective officer and political structures have existed for many years to support joint working, and therefore they are well placed to enable the project to be taken forward.
However, over the course of the project so far, a number of challenges have arisen, which have impacted upon the progress of the Plan. During the initial phases of work, during 2019 and into early-2020, some key evidence documents took longer to complete than had been anticipated, leading to a three month delay in being able to commence the Regulation 18 consultation, with consequential revisions to the overall timeline for the Plan’s preparation.
In December 2020, the Government published revisions to the standard method for calculating future housing requirements, including a 35% uplift for a number of cities including Nottingham. The effect of this change is that the Plan will need to direct a much greater focus towards meeting the City’s specific housing requirement within its boundaries rather than a wider distribution across the city region. To this end, further work is now being undertaken on the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessments (SHLAAs) for each authority, but especially within Nottingham City, to ensure that every possible opportunity for residential development is identified and assessed. The outcomes of this work are not yet known, but it is critical to the Plan being able to meet its housing requirements at the strategic level.
During late-2020 and into early-2021, some uncertainty developed on whether or not the Government would proceed with the eastern leg of the HS2 high speed railway project. This potentially impacts upon the Plan’s preparation in a number of ways.
If the Government confirms its intention to proceed with the project, the Plan can continue to plan for strategic development opportunities and the necessary infrastructure links, probably including an extension to the Nottingham tram system, at Toton, the planned new HS2 station between Derby and Nottingham. If the project is delayed, or cancelled, the opportunity to achieve such growth within the Plan period will not be possible, and the strategic growth opportunity at Toton will need to be reviewed. This will then lead to other spatial planning issues concerning other parts of the city region, including areas beyond the GNSP area.
The project plan for the Plan’s preparation must therefore be capable of adjustment to address issues such as those described above, without impacting upon the overall objective of preparing the Plan and without affecting the political consensus already secured. This reinforces the need for regular updates and briefings to Councillors on issues affecting the Plan.
Main Learning Points
The authorities’ previous track record of co-operation and joint working on major planning issues enabled them to commence work on the GNSP without difficulty, taking advantage of the political and officer structures already in place to facilitate such joint working. Based on their experience since 2019 in successfully progressing the GNSP through its Regulation 18 Issues and Options consultation stage and towards the preparation of a draft Regulation 19 Pre-Submission Plan, the following key learning points can be recognised that are more generally applicable to strategic planning work:
- An effective political structure for timely consideration of key issues and reports in order to maintain momentum with the project. In Greater Nottingham this is achieved by a standing Joint Planning Advisory Board (JPAB), presently chaired by a County Councillor, comprising members from each of the constituent authorities. This secures political ‘ownership’ of the project and significantly assists with maintaining effective liaison with Officers.
- Realistic project planning which takes account of the many inter-dependencies that the preparation of a statutory development plan document involves, including timelines for the commissioning and production of evidence, often by external consultants, timelines for the preparation of key reports to joint boards and constituent authorities, and the time necessary to prepare for and then undertake effective public consultation and engagement. It is vital that the project plan is maintained and updated on a regular basis to take account of any slippages, and the impacts of those slippages.
- A well-resourced team of Officers drawn from the constituent authorities who are able to address strategic issues at the city region level effectively and who can work jointly on strategic planning issues.
- Develop a good understanding of national policy initiatives that are the key drivers for strategic planning by the authorities involved, for example by regular briefings and updates to both Councillors and Officers on national issues such as climate change and carbon reduction.
- Draw on the County Council’s expertise in planning for and securing the delivery of key community and transport infrastructure.
- Use an independent advisor or facilitator to provide an independent viewpoint on matters of possible contention between the authorities, in order to build consensus on the approaches to be taken.
- Encourage a culture of active engagement and consultation with key stakeholders also working at the strategic level, such as the Local Enterprise Partnership, the utility and transport companies and the health authorities, to identify any other strategic issues of importance that may impact upon the Plan.