The news from last week that London mayor Boris Johnson is planning to create a strategic regional plan covering the capital and the greater South East and that he plans to hold a summit next spring to discuss the issue with Home Counties council chiefs has a strong sense of dejavu for those of us who can remember the mid 1980’s when local Government concluded that they could not rely on the Government to resolve issues such as housing and commercial space in the same area. The London and South East Regional Planning Conference or SERPLAN included all of the County areas surrounding London and together these Council leaders and their officers resolved matters such as the siting of the M25. The documentation relating to this can be found here and the following is an exerpt from the proceedings:
The endurance of a regional planning forum in the South East (SERPLAN), its current strong activity in response to recent lack of interest by the Government, and its survival despite the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC), is testimony to the crucial importance the local planning authorities attach to it. This stems mainly from the dynamics of social and economic change in the metropolitan region: the forces of dispersal — of people in search of better housing, of economic activity arising from changes in industrial and occupational structures — and decline in the Capital itself.
Since the 1980s various attempts were made by various Governments to shape or arguably control how this sort of planning was achieved. At the end of the Conservative control of the UK, the Labour Government that began its tenure in 1997 created regional assemblies throughout the UK, as part of its devolving of power to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. However the current Government dispensed with most of the elements of this English architecture within hours of arriving in post. It is somewhat ironic that the Party now claiming it wants to provide devolution for England actually dismantled the limited devolution that did exist in 2009. I was part of the South East Regional Assembly and one of its distinctives compared to SERPLAN was that its meetings took place in public and it was made up of people from outside of the conventional political structures. Sadly what Boris has in mind returns us back to the 1980’s, not to the more enlightened approach adopted in 1999. If Boris really wants to shape the future, he will need to consider how to ensure that all of our public services as well as business and the Voluntary and Community Sector help shape strategic provision of services. Sadly the lessons on this from the Regional Assemblies were lost when the Government introduced Local Economic Partnerships, excluding the voluntary sector from their midst. The idea that it is possible to achieve economic growth for all without those organisations that help the people most disconnected from the workplace is pure fantasy. The same argument applies to the local Health and Well-being Boards, set up without adequate Voluntary and Community Sector involvement. If Boris is determined to reinvent SERPLAN, he needs to do so in a way that acknowledges that the world of strategic planning has changed since 1987.