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The case for Reconstructing England
The starting point for the development of this inquiry is a simple proposition that the way England is organised will deliver sub-optimal outcomes when measured against the scale of the economic, environmental and social challenges which face us. In short the country is badly organised and therefore lacks the capacity and resilience to face the future effectively and fairly.
The TCPA, whose ethos, membership and corporate supporters embrace the private and public sectors, charities, local government and the third sector, is ideally placed to fill a void at the heart of the English dimension. It has a strong track record, having produced, with corporate support, a Connecting England report in 2006 – the result of a cross-party commission – and a follow-up report, Connecting Local Economies (supported by the Local Government Association) in 2010.
It is over a year since the new Government began a radical reform of the planning system. This has been expressed in the Localism Act and through a second major reform of planning announced in the 2011 Budget and HM Treasury’s Plan for Growth. The sum total of the reform package is a complex set of changes which are intended to foster both localism and economic growth. What is clear is that these reforms leave England in a unique position in the UK and Northwest Europe in having no national or regional spatial planning structures. It is difficult to gauge where the planning system will land as result of these reforms but our conclusion so far is that the system is not capable of meeting the challenges which our nation has to face. This problem is not simply confined to the present reform package but relates to long standing failures to set out a powerful vision for England backed by the structures and processes to help deliver such a vision.
England has many positive assets but it is also a divided nation in which social mobility and poverty remain entrenched and where access to educational and economic opportunities can be restricted. These problems have a spatial dimension which is both complex but also distinctive. Very broadly, the greater south east has continued to be the driver of economic change and receives the greatest share of public investment. Peripheral parts of western and northern England face relative decline with second order regional cities particularly at risk. These structural economic inequalities are set to worsen because of changes to regeneration policy. Economic concentration in the south east is set to intensify. Current orthodoxy suggests that this process is somehow a ‘natural’ and acceptable part of market driven spatial change.
But will this current orthodoxy deliver for England in the medium term? The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) and the Foresight report indentified a range of important resource-use constraints for the south east which cannot easily be resolved, not least around water supply. In the medium and longer term, Foresight and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have identified the major strategic threat of climate change, particularly the impact of sea level rise on some key cities and on our highest grade agricultural land. The global impact of climate change and resource depletion will have major spatial implications as we try to grapple with food and energy security. The nation also has to deal with the demographic pressures from the 230,000 new households formed per year and the longer term movement of population driven by economic change and climate change.
All of result of these issues, we must ask whether the fabric of England’s towns, cities and countryside is fit to face the future?
The TCPA intends to establish an Inquiry to explore the future of England. The first phase of which will run in spring 2012. The inquiry will seek to draw on the existing extensive research work wherever possible. An initial scan of the current literature suggests the key task of the Inquiry team is to synthesise current research rather than to conduct new primary work. The purpose of this synthesis would be to find workable and practical recommendations rather than, for example list uncertainties or wide ranging scenarios. The remit of the Inquiry team would not be to ‘prop up’ any existing or historic approaches but to explore the spatial nature of the challenges we face and recommend both policy options and the necessary structures to deliver them.
Set out below is the general headline for the terms of reference for this Inquiry:
‘To inquire into the current urban and rural fabric of England and the probable direction of demographic, environmental and economic change up to 2050; to consider the likely strategic strengths and weakness of current and future urban concentrations; to, in particular, consider the likely implications of these trends in light of economic efficiency, environmental resource use and social inclusion and cohesion; to report on what remedial measures, if any, should be taken to secure the long term sustainable development of England in the national interest.
Programme of activity for spring 2012
The Inquiry will work under two key assumptions:
There are 4 key work streams, which in each case will have provocation papers prepared and a high level, cross-sector roundtable to test the paper and gather views. Chairs have been identified for each work stream, including Prof John Handley at the University of Manchester (climate change adaptation); Peter Hetherington, from The Guardian, TCPA trustee and head of Connecting England Commission (economic change and spatial inequalities); Anna Watson, Friends of the Earth (Governance); and Rob Shaw, LDA Design (climate change mitigation).
Work stream 1: Climate Change
Work stream 2: Demographic Change
Work stream 3: Economic change
Work stream 4: Governance (cross-cutting theme)