Column - March 2011
Can Local Enterprise Partnerships deliver the green economy society needs?
As the Transport Select Committee report on Transport and the Economy of 2nd March highlighted the Coalition’s new proposals for the Planning system could cause a strategic gap making it difficult to develop green transport schemes to revive the economy, a key Government objective.
The Coalition has made it clear that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS) are the main mechanism to use for strategic development now that Regional Development Agencies are to be abolished. The justification for LEPs is that the local businesses and authorities can decide with whom to form partnership, based on the local functional economies.
The Localism Bill does not mention LEPs so they have no statutory status which raises further questions of what the governance arrangements will be, their democratic accountability and whether they will be decision making or advisory bodies? Unless LEPs are legal bodies they cannot devolve funding so if partners want to co-ordinate funding they need to set up mechanisms such as Integrated Transport authorities (ITAs) and Combined Authority, like Greater Manchester. Who will co-ordinate European funding applications, which are complex and specialist skills, as bodies which get European funding have to have legal status.
A fundamental concern for rail freight schemes, which tend to be cross regional, is the limited size and geographical scale of LEPs, of which 31 have already been accepted by the Departments of BIS and DCLG jointly running the scheme. Examples include the North East partnership, separate Tees Valley, York and North Yorkshire, South East Midlands, Greater Manchester and Kent and Greater Essex. There are still considerable gaps of parts of the country without LEPs, such as most of Lancashire and the SW excluding Cornwall.
How well suited are LEPSs to strategic planning for transport for cross boundary projects? An acid test will be whether LEPs can influence planning decisions to encourage sustainable strategic transport schemes to help regenerate the economy? As it stands, Localism could make it be difficult for planning authorities to take into account the wider economic and environmental benefits of schemes such as intermodal terminals and wind farms when there is local opposition to local disadvantages. That is why, we have been lobbying, alongside other business and environmental groups, for the need for the duty to co-operate in the Localism Bill to make local authorities both take account of the wider impacts of local scheme and work proactively together on cross boundary developments.
The Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, has said that he wants LEPs to advise him on sub-national transport priorities and has talked about consortiums of LEPs working together. If this is the case, LEPS need to be incentivised to work together to achieve transport goals. There are long lead times for transport planning and the economy needs green transport solutions to be planned now otherwise there will be a gap in transport provision in a few years time.
When questioned, all the LEPs had transport as the second most important issue to sort after reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The jury is still out on how well Local Enterprise Partnerships and possibly consortiums of LEPs can work together to plan and fund rail freight schemes. Business needs some certainty from the planning system if it is to invest resources and funding in making planning applications for terminals of all sizes. The country needs to transfer long distance freight to rail if it is to meet its climate change targets and keep the economy moving.