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Opaque role holds back LEPs in planning

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Local Enterprise Partnerships’ contribution to economic growth and devolution is being held back by their unclear legal status and unfamiliarity with planning, the Royal Town Planning Institute has said.

An analysis for the institute by a team of academics found LEPs had considerable potential to contribute to local housing, planning and employment policies, but they “continue to operate with an opaque remit and lack firm institutional foundations”.

“This limits their effectiveness as brokers of cross-boundary, strategic planning issues,” the report said.

LEPs are not legally public bodies, but “benefit from the patronage of central government [which] is actually quite directive of their work”, the researchers noted in their report Planning for Growth: The Role of Local Enterprise Partnerships in England

The report said nearly all LEPs were understaffed in strategic planning and “there is widespread uncertainty over their planning role, including among LEPs themselves”.

Institute head of policy and research Richard Blyth said the advent of combined authorities and city region devolution meant many local authorities were preparing joint local plans across areas similar to LEPs.

“If LEPs are to seize these opportunities our study shows there is a clear need to formalise their status in the planning system and their relationship with local authorities,” Mr Blyth said.

“They need to find more ways to work more closely with local authorities on a range of strategic planning issues.”

Mark Reeve, chair of Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP, speaking for the LEP Network Management Board, said: “All LEPs continue to advocate business having a strong voice around the table when investment decisions are taken locally, and that includes planning.

“LEPs remain committed to their central task of working in partnership to support private sector growth and productivity, and are working with our local authority partners to make every local economy more successful”.

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