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Steve Rotheram: Metro mayors have a chance to plan differently

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The key rationale for devolution was that we are better placed to make decisions about our city region than Whitehall mandarins, who couldn’t point to Kirkby or Kirkdale on a map.

Steve Rotherham

But there are also strong practical and geographical reasons for working together as a combined authority.

Back in 2014 when the leaders of the Liverpool City Region’s six constituent local authorities jointly decided to join a combined authority, they did so to tackle strategic issues that cross council boundaries, such as transport, skills and planning, as well as access funding from central government.

That decision was a new start for us in the city region, where historically our relationships had been characterised more by competition than collaboration.

Whilst still in its infancy, this new relationship gives us a chance to do things differently, not least in the sphere of planning and spatial development.

Under the devolution deal signed with central government in 2017, we were given new strategic planning powers to accelerate economic growth and new housing development throughout the city region.

We are determined to make the most of those powers, and are the only city region outside London developing an overarching spatial development strategy. While individual planning decisions will still be made by local councils, our strategy will help to shape what gets built where across our city region.

It will do that by setting out an integrated economic, environmental, transport and social framework for the development of the Liverpool City Region over the next 20 to 25 years. This will provide a framework for the development and use of land in our city region, helping to ensure a more joined-up policy across the six local authorities.

We are producing this strategy in a deliberately inclusive way that will reflect the issues that are important to local people.

To that end, we are deliberately consulting with the most economically disadvantaged in our city region, using a local engagement social venture called PLACED. We know these residents do not traditionally engage in planning consultations, but developments can have a huge impact on where they live, and on access to jobs or health care. We need to know what matters to them.

Therefore I have also asked my planning team to ensure that, for the first time anywhere in the country, we will undertake a comprehensive social value evaluation of the spatial development strategy. This means when potential developments are evaluated in future, the social contribution they make will be as important as the more traditional economic measures.

In a similar vein climate change, one of the key challenges we face globally, will also form a key plank of our spatial development strategy.

Last year I met Daniel Slade, a researcher with the Royal Town Planning Institute, who has some very interesting ideas around climate justice and how we can prevent the most disadvantaged in our society being disproportionately affected by climate change.

That’s why, in the first initiative of its kind in the country, we are working with the institute to develop climate resilience policy for the city region’s 1.6 million residents.

The policy will be incorporated in the spatial development strategy, having legal weight and joining up housing, transport, green space and other planning policy across the whole region to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The project is driven by the concept of ‘climate justice’ and puts fairness, equality and inclusion at the heart of the city region’s response to climate change. This is just one of many issues where it makes sense to look at what we can do on a larger geographical footprint than a single local authority.

Devolution and co-operation in a combined authority have given us a chance to do things differently in our city region, to deliver better results for everyone who lives and works here. We have seized that opportunity with both hands and will put everything we have into making the most of that opportunity. We will succeed.

Steve Rotheram, metro mayor, Liverpool City Region

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