Planning for regional growth – what’s needed?

Our regional planning experts share their views on how planning can best support regeneration.

Labour’s commanding majority provides a mandate to deliver on its manifesto pledges – and one of the areas it is focusing on first is planning reform.

The planning system plays an instrumental role in driving growth and attracting investment. It’s one of the first building blocks for successful regeneration.

But there are challenges with the system as it stands, and broad agreement across the industry that reform is needed. In our Blueprint for Growth, Harworth set out the policy changes we propose the new government delivers.

These recommendations draw on our experience as a master developer delivering large, complex regeneration schemes across the north of England and the Midlands.

Following its launch, our planning leads across the business – Rob Haslam (Regional Head of Planning, North West), Jo Neville (Regional Head of Planning, Yorkshire and Central) and Rachel Mythen (Development Planner, Midlands) – share their views on how planning can best support regeneration, and their learnings from leading on the delivery of our schemes across the country.

“Don’t underestimate the power of relationships.”

The best examples of successful regeneration and sustainable development have been achieved through commitment and collaboration between the public and private sector. Private sector investment is now more important than ever with tightened public sector finances.

Each of our planning leads stress the importance of relationships – the need to see beyond planning as a technical process and focus on building connections between developers, consultants, local government and, crucially, communities.

By developing a shared vision and collaborative ways of working, hurdles can be overcome and an outcome that works for all parties can be achieved. As a long-term partner to local government, the team at Harworth understands this.

Large-scale development is delivered over the long term – often decades – and this goes beyond electoral cycles. There must be a focus on not letting progress stall as political leadership, and agendas, change. Strong relationships with officers is key.

Importantly, when regeneration works, this is often down to the local authority partner buying into the importance of the development will bring to an area. Their support can help to get communities, and elected members, on board – telling the story of regeneration and the benefits it will bring to communities.

“Focus on strengthening expertise – on both sides of the table.”

Regeneration is inherently challenging and complex. Our Regional Head of Planning for Yorkshire and Central, Jo, feels that for it to be a success, this requires hard work by all parties – and it’s essential that the planning resource within the local authority is robust to enable the delivery of much-needed development.

There’s no question that local government has suffered from tightened resources in recent years, leading to squeezed planning teams and delays in the system, deterring investment and limiting growth.

Labour’s commitment to bring 300 additional planning officers into local government to give planning departments much needed resilience is welcomed.

“It’s about developing in the right place, at the right time – and that could be on the Green Belt.”

It’s essential we deliver regeneration where it is needed and homes and spaces for industry in the right place, at the right time.

Reflecting on the nature of land supply in their regions, our planning experts feel that while regeneration of brownfield land should be promoted, it’s not always appropriate for the type of development needed.

Local authorities and central government needs to take a more flexible approach if it is drive regional growth.

Scale is also key. To drive sustainable growth – the building blocks of homes, industry and social infrastructure are all needed. This is often only possible on large sites outside of cities. Sometimes this will be on brownfield land, like at our Waverley development in South Yorkshire, but in many cases it means making the decision to build on parts of the Green Belt.

New regulatory requirements including Biodiversity Net Gain is also easier to achieve on larger schemes, and there are challenges in delivering this on brownfield sites.

In other cases, demand for spaces to serve new and growing industries such as AI or advanced manufacturing may be in areas where brownfield land is not as readily available, but development is needed to drive inward investment.

The approach to build in the right place at the right time should also be taken for infrastructure, particularly where this can enable development and delivery of homes and spaces for industry.

“Take a regional view.”

The Labour government has said it will double down on devolution, with the party’s manifesto setting out an ambition to grant mayoral combined authorities more planning powers.

Giving devolved regions more responsibility around strategic planning could help to promote much-needed regeneration.

We’ve seen the success of this in Greater Manchester’s Places for Everyone, and there are things that other regions can learn from the mayoral combined authority’s approach to strategic planning.

Our Regional Head of Planning for the North West, Rob, reflected on Harworth’s involvement in this plan and how it is helping to unlock development at the scale required for a booming region – including at our Wingates scheme in Bolton which will deliver new employment space. These sort of schemes are made better when they’re conceived as part of a joined-up strategy for the wider region.

However, from our experts’ experience, strategic planning should be approached on a case-by-case basis.

As Rachel, Development Planner in our Midlands team, posed – what works well in Greater Manchester may not work for the West Midlands as a lack of devolved planning powers makes strategic planning more challenging – something which has been proven by previous attempts at the creation of joint plans in the region, including the Black Country Plan. Metro mayors must work with government to develop bespoke solutions and where appropriate advocate for increased planning powers.

One of the recommendations in Harworth’s Blueprint for Growth is the increased devolution of planning powers to mayoral combined authorities, enabling these bodies to take strategic decisions on large-scale development for the benefit of the wider area.

Our planning leads agreed that removing these important schemes from the traditional planning process would help to support regeneration.

“We need certainty and stability.”

Regeneration depends on investment – from both the public and private sector. To secure long-term investment from developers, we agree with the new Chancellor of the Exchequer that certainty and stability on a national and sub-regional level is essential.

That requires stability in the planning system – with unnecessary delays removed, decisions on regionally important schemes taken strategically, and the process streamlined.

For our planning leads, this also means certainty in delivery of supporting infrastructure, such as road, rail and utilities which enable regeneration. When regeneration schemes aren’t properly supported by infrastructure, that creates additional planning risk and reduces the likelihood of securing funding.

Our planning experts are encouraged by Labour’s plans to reform the planning system to deliver strategically important infrastructure.

With increased certainty, long-term investment can be made and developers like Harworth can be a long-term partner to local government and deliver the regeneration needed to drive growth.

There’s a lot of policy areas for Labour to focus on in the first months of its government – and it’s a good thing that planning is top of the list. By addressing key areas, the planning system can function effectively as a driver of growth.

Meet the team

Joanne Neville

Regional Head of Planning – Yorkshire & Central

Rob Haslam

Regional Head of Planning – North West

Rachel Mythen

Development Planner – Midlands