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LEPs held back by ‘unclear status’ – RTPI report

The potential of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) is being held back by their “unclear status” and “unfamiliarity with town planning”, a new study by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has claimed. 

LEPs are voluntary partnerships between local authorities and businesses set up in 2011 by central government to help determine economic priorities and lead economic growth and job creation within the local area. To date there are 39 LEPs in operation. 

In the first comprehensive analysis of the planning roles of LEPs, it was stated that as place-based devolution gathers momentum these organisations have considerable potential to work across different policy areas. 

However, the ‘Planning for Growth: The Role of Local Enterprise Partnerships in England Final Report’ found that LEPs continue to operate with an “opaque remit” and “lack firm institutional foundations”. This limits their effectiveness as brokers of cross-boundary, strategic planning issues. 

Lee Pugalis, reader at Northumbria University and principal author of the report, who PSE interviewed last year, said: “Strategic planning is returning to prominence with different approaches and institutional mechanisms emerging in different parts of the country, for example between those places that have secured Devolution Deals to those with little history of inter-authority and multi-sector collaboration. 

“LEPs are but one piece in this evolving institutional architecture, but our research shows that they have the potential to be powerful players in sub-national development and planning.” 

According to the study more than half of LEPs (25 out of 39) intend to align or pool local authority growth funding, particularly in relation to housing, transport, economic development, regeneration, planning and infrastructure.

Nineteen refer to joint contracts or collective decision-making arrangements with local authorities, and 17 to combined authorities or ‘economic prosperity boards’. 

Richard Blyth, head of policy and research at the RTPI, said: “More local authorities are preparing joint local plans across areas that are similar to LEPs, and combined authorities, directly elected metropolitan mayors and city regional devolution deals are set to become more common.” 

He added that if LEPs are to seize these opportunities there is a clear need to formalise their status in the planning system and their relationship with local authorities.  

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

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