20170216 Things to note at WMCA Board

Once again, the below is what I would have annotated on the agenda pack for WMCA Board, to highlight things of interest, concern or (very occasionally) amusement. The pack is a trim 384 pages if you include the supplementary papers, so suffice it to say, I am doing you a kindness.

If you want to read the previous edition to get yourself into the zone, you can find it here.

The West Midlands Land Commission

The Land Commission is one of three commissions that the WMCA has undertaken, and the full report is coming to Board today. This commission focuses on ensuring a supply of land across the region that will help us to meet our strategic goals associated with housing and employment — predominantly economic (500,000 new jobs by 2030), but social and environmental too.

However, the Land Commission has also reflected on the governance arrangements of that delivery, and suggests that the WMCA may lack the “clear collective governance” needed to deliver these elements of the strategic economic plan (p92), and suggests that this might need to be reviewed.

The national context for this paper (apart from the ongoing fearsome hellscape which hardly seems worth commenting on) — as noted in the report (p21) — is created by the recent Housing white paper and the Industrial Strategy green paper. You can read some of my reflections on the latter here.

Note that whoever has prepared the papers is at great pains to make it clear that this paper is being received, and certainly nothing more (p19):

It’s a rum do when you have to be reminded to say thank you

Since its inception in the summer of last year, the commissioners have considered a body of existing evidence, as well as holding three evidence-gathering sessions in the three LEP areas of the WMCA: that is, Greater Birmingham & Solihull, Coventry & Warwickshire and The Black Country. This has clearly been a challenging process, as the introduction to the final report notes:

In this report and its work, the Commission has had to strike a balance between very different views and sometimes competing interests.

Imagine. Anyway, a couple of highlights:

Developing a non-statutory spatial framework, which aligns development and infrastructure.

This is different to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which is, as we speak, developing a statutory spatial framework (referenced on p49). I suspect that there would have been some heated debate on whether to recommend this. Seemingly, that battle was lost, although the report does say, with great sternness, that there is “a strong bias to collective action” (p44), and that need for some sort of single spatial vision was a point of wide agreement.

Anyway, there is no doubt that they are worried about spooking the horses. The covering report is pretty clear (p20, item 2.2):

All local authorities will retain their existing sovereignty over land and planning matters within their boundaries.

This is brought out a number of times — the WMCA should be “adding value” to what Councils do, presumably by co-ordinating, and by exercising the powers and drawing together the resources that only it can by virtue of the devolution deal, and leaving it to the various authorities to interpret the vision within their own Local Plans.

I don’t think this debate is over.

Furthermore, I would have expected resilience of current and future infrastructure to climate change to feature here, and it isn’t mentioned *at all*, in spite of talking a reasonably good game on aligning infrastructure planning:

Step-up brownfield development…but review the Green Belt

Killer quote:

The review should pick up from and, where appropriate, supersede the reviews which a number of local authorities have under-way, where the Commission shares the view of a number of respondents that individual local reviews risk a piecemeal and unsustainable ‘chipping away’ of the Green Belt.

This will be a real test of the strength of the WMCA, which will incidentally be establishing its Land Remediation Fund this meeting.

(…incidentally, you can conduct a review of your very own by consulting the English Green Belt Atlas, which I discovered the other day.)

The WMCA Overview & Scrutiny Committee has set up three ‘select committees’ to mirror these Commissions. I favour them meeting the statutory vs. non-statutory issue head on. We need to get this right — we already have businesses looking elsewhere because of a lack of sites, and our people need homes that we are yet to build.

Ultimately, this is a detailed, consequential paper, from region to neighbourhood level, and the progress of the various strands is worth scrutinising. So please do have a look—and you can send any feedback to landcommission@centro.org.uk.

Minutes of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee

They have spelt my name wrong, not for lack of me pointing out how to spell it correctly — but I can hardly point it out again without looking needlessly finicky. Could be worse, I suppose. Anyway, we mostly discussed how to approach Scrutiny, and floated the idea of forming the select committees, as above. A number of us are visiting the London Assembly next week, to learn from their model of Scrutiny, which is pretty exciting.

Minutes of the Audit, Risk and Assurance Committee

As a new institution, working out some of the conflicts will be an interesting (stop laughing) task for the Audit, Risk and Assurance Committee — one example as below (p192):

Trade Union Congress (TUC) Engagement with the Combined Authority

My assumption is that the proposal to co-opt a representative onto the WMCA Board will be approved, along with the necessary constitutional amendment to make this possible — positive, and the WMCA will be the first Combined Authority to do this.

Network Resilience — Preliminary Report

The Board is being asked to approve the establishment of a multi-agency Network Resilience Partnership and associated communications mechanism, which will ensure that the (one day integrated) transport network is up to both enabling and keeping up with the planned economic growth.

They would like it to look like this (WM TRaR may need work, as not entirely dissimilar to an antagonist in Thundercats or similar):

So the Land Commission’s focus on integrating with infrastructure planning makes a lot of sense. It has also been highlighted as part of the second devolution deal discussions with the Treasury and Department for Transport.

The report pulls out a number of infrastructure developments which may cause short-term stress to the network without proper co-ordination:

In short, there will need to be a combination of encouraging car-sharing, encouraging people to try travelling in alternative ways, or at different times, traffic management, and a robust communications strategy to enable the above, and to keep people informed as things change.

HS2 Connectivity Package

I have a vested interest in the Camp Hill Chords, for obvious Moseley & Kings Heath reasons, but this is an interesting representation of the texture of the HS2 Connectivity Package, which has just been ‘reprioritised’:

If you turn to Appendix 1 of this section (p229), you can also see where the funding is to come from for the Core and New items, as far as is known.

Swift Programme 2017

This was touched on last Board meeting, but there is a little more detail on the timescales — p233 if you want to take a look.

West Midlands Bus Alliance Annual Report

Summed up reasonably well by this infographic — the falling patronage (other than in Coventry) is troubling, and linked to the lengthening travel times.

It goes back to what we know, really — people like buses better when they are on time. So if you can leave the car at home, you will be part of the solution.

2017/18 Combined Authority Operating Budget/Consolidated Budget

This is the WMCA budget, organised by portfolio — note that the gain share revenue grant comprises roughly half of the total:

It is the gain share that will fund the Mayor’s office in the first year, after which the Mayoral Precept will do that. This will be levied on Band D+ properties, and it suddenly strikes me that I have no idea as to how much it will raise.

The papers go into more detail as to how the money is being used to progress each portfolio (p293). There will, I hope, be some opportunity to unpack this a little bit — the use of consultants is a favourite of many, but such things need to be considered on their own merits. E.g., when Birmingham City Council sets up its municipal energy company, I would expect them to draw on external help, because they lack that expertise (understandably so).

The big thing to note, as always, is that the WMCA is actually quite small, budget-wise — and as Jan Britton is fond of saying, it would only take the HS2 projects to overspend by 5% to wipe out the entire budget. Good thing no-one overspends on infrastructure, I suppose… #sideeye

The big number that many will care about is the cost of the Metro Mayor election: £5m. Democracy is worth the investment, non?