A suite of aligned core strategies were adopted across Greater Nottingham in 2014 covering the five local planning authority areas making up the Housing Market Area. The government’s push for more joint working means our experiences during this process could well be relevant to those considering joint working for the first time.
Get the governance right
Lead councillors need to be involved from the outset, and well before the difficult decisions need to be made – they need to get to know each other and build rapport and trust. Whether you are considering a formal Joint Committee, or as in Greater Nottingham, a voluntary plan-making partnership, it is absolutely vital that councillors get ownership of the process as early as possible. In Greater Nottingham, the Joint Planning Advisory Board was established in 2008, and has met regularly since. The members of the board are the conduit through which the views of the board are communicated to the individual council’s decision making bodies. Agendas are set by a steering group of senior officers (Directors/Heads of Service), so buy-in and trust is achieved at senior officer level too.
Get the officer relationships right
You’ve got to work together, and this is much easier in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Regular face-to-face meetings and a past history of joint working help. Use the lead-in to plan making (evidence collection and commissioning) to develop those personal relationships and establish mutually-supportive working patterns, such as sharing out tasks between yourselves. Ideally, establish a separate team from your respective councils, although resources may not permit this. This allows the team to focus solely on the joint planning work, without distractions of other priorities in their ‘home’ council. At the very least, one officer needs to be responsible for managing the partnership, and each council needs a dedicated officer at a senior level (local plan managers in Greater Nottingham) prepared to attend regular meetings and be responsible for their council’s contribution.
Be prepared for the unexpected
It is harder for a group working together to respond quickly to events than for an individual council. Have the right delegations/protocols in place to ensure you can respond to the unexpected quickly, and know how this will be resourced, for instance if you need to pull in some legal advice at short notice.
It won’t be as quick!
Joint working and partnership working takes longer, although the results make it worthwhile (as do the savings on evidence base etc). Only do what you have to do jointly, everything else can be done individually ‘back at base’, so keep your plans short and focussed. If you are working in a partnership rather than via a Joint Committee, build in time for the separate approval processes of each Council.
Matt Gregory is planning policy and research manager at Nottingham City Council