It is easy to feel resentful and critical when people espouse arguments which they previously denigrated and criticised as other people articulated the same points of view. However it is much more sensible to acknowledge that experience and understanding has finally taken hold and to celebrate that the future will be better than the past. While Parliament was debating the Housing White Paper last week, Sajid Javid made the following comment:
My hon. Friend makes a good point. When plans are put together, they should look at the long-term land supply—not just over the following five years but beyond that to the required need. Also, there should be more co-operation with neighbouring local authorities on putting together the plans, which is where the proposed new statement of common purpose will help.
The suggestion that local authorities should work together on long term planning matters is not radical although it is certainly a change of direction coming from this Government. When the Tories arrived at No 10 albeit with the Liberal Democrats in tow, they tore up over a decades worth of work of the Regional Assemblies which had carefully and effectively pulled together plans not just for housing but for the large scale infrastructure which is an inevitable part of housing supply. These long term plans were known as Regional Spatial Strategies. The Assemblies (8 in total excluding the London Assembly) were made up of local authorities and a small balancing number of businesses and voluntary sector bodies. This meant the plans were much more robust than could have been achieved if only Councils had been part of the mix. Within a year of this act the coalition had set up Local Economic Partnerships which enabled businesses and Councils to reform some elements of the regional focus (albeit the geography was different). Under the previous approach the economic body was known as a regional development agency and the assemblies were created to hold the RDAs to account. This latest call from Javid who replaced Eric Pickles at the Department of Communities and Local Government who was the one to rip up the old regional structures will reinsert planning into the regional focus. There is already a clear need for greater scrutiny of the LEPs than exists at present and it is certain that the LEPs themselves will not be suitable to carry out planning activity.
The call from Sajid Javid has other benefits. It reminds us all that shared sovereignty can be a good way of operating. It is ironic that Mr Javid has so far not seen the link between shared sovereignty at a local level and that at a national level, particularly as his comments came in the days before he voted to enact Article 50.