How can we link ideas for positive change in the region to formal structures, processes and policies in order to influence what actually gets done on a daily basis?
We need to engage with the detail of the Devolution Deal for West Yorkshire.
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority sought views on the transfer of powers to a regional level in a new Devolution Deal earlier this year in May/July1. Same Skies have previously provided a summary of the Deal2 and what it means for our region.3
In this post we look specifically at the existing and proposed powers over housing and planning (pages 25 and 26 of the Deal) and provide some initial thoughts to inform our on-going Alternative Manifesto Process (AMP)4.
EXISTING POWERS OVER HOUSING AND PLANNING
At the moment the WYCA has no independent power over housing and planning. The existing powers of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) are formally set out in legislation from 20145.
The WYCA exists as a collaboration between the 5 Local Authorities and Leeds City Region LEP. It provides a way for the Local Authorities to coordinate responses to issues that extend beyond individual council boundaries. The WYCA has helped coordinate economic development, regeneration and investment in housing but this has been implemented through the power of the Local Authorities rather than through any additional regional powers.
Currently each of the 5 Local Authorities are required to make a ‘Local Plan’ for their area, which identifies housing needs, availability of land and local policies.6 Each Local Authority has the power to decide upon planning applications submitted within their area, using their Local Plan to assess the impacts and benefits of development.
PROPOSED POWERS OVER HOUSING AND PLANNING
The new Devolution Deal contains a set of proposed powers for a new West Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (WYMCA). These powers introduce a new level of control over housing and planning at a regional level.
The Deal proposes that the WYMCA will be able to designate Mayoral Development Areas (this could be across Local Authority boundaries or solely within one) and agree powers as a Mayoral Development Corporation to decide over planning applications within a designated development area. As a Mayoral Development Corporation the WYMCA will be able to acquire and dispose of land, using Compulsory Purchase Orders to enable strategic development. The WYMCA will be able to obtain investment nationally, such as through the current Brownfield Housing Fund or through a Strategic Place Partnership with Homes England.
The Deal also proposes that the WYMCA will be responsible for producing a Spatial Development Strategy for West Yorkshire. This will be in addition to the Local Plans produced by the 5 Local Authorities and introduce a new level of planning strategy and policy. The Deal doesn’t mention this but it is likely that the WYMCA would also produce planning policy for any Mayoral Development Area that is designated.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER? SOME INITIAL THOUGHTS ON THE DEAL TO INFORM THE AMP
It is positive that new powers are being given to West Yorkshire. However, at this stage the Deal is very light in detail about how these powers will actually be implemented. It is crucial that the new powers are used to address existing inequalities, reflect local priorities, and enable a regional response to the climate emergency.
At the moment we offer the below thoughts that we hope to explore with you through the AMP process:
The devolution of powers to West Yorkshire provides an opportunity for holistic planning across housing, transport, energy, food production, the environment and the economy. Given the limited detail in the Deal there is a real opportunity to bring creative ambition, experimentation and play to influence the structure of the WYMCA and ensure that the powers are used to affect transformative and just change. The WYMCA should collaborate at multiple levels by learning from and building on local, regional, national and international best-practice.
There must be a commitment to using the new powers to do things differently – the WYMCA should commit to a collaborative approach to housing and planning, seeking to generate community wealth, achieve social justice, improve the quality of environments and pursue zero-carbon placemaking. The different qualities and needs of areas within West Yorkshire must be recognised, avoiding a narrow focus on the larger city-centres such as Leeds.
There is great practical experience and inspiration to be drawn from pioneering community-led and charitable housing projects, with a regional enabling hub supporting groups and organisations across West Yorkshire.7 New public-civic partnerships should be explored across the region, supporting self-build, custom-build and local/regional housebuilders to deliver a range of not-for-profit social, private rented and privately owned zero-carbon houses, along with facilities to make social neighbourhoods such as outdoor space, growing space, art and technical workshops, meeting rooms, local businesses etc. Existing neighbourhoods and houses also need to be retrofitted to zero-carbon and can be brought into not-for-profit public/civic ownership and management to add to affordable housing.
Neil McKenna is a PhD researcher at Leeds University and an urban planner at Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design.
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