The Government has published its response to the CLG Select Committee Report on the abolition of RSSs. In a written statement on 23 June, the Secretary of State for CLG, Eric Pickles, said the following:
"I welcome the Committee's report and I have carefully considered its findings. The debate has helped to inform the amendments that we made to the Localism Bill at the Commons Report stage to strengthen the duty to cooperate and my Department will continue to take the findings into account as policy is developed. [...] We have made it plain that our decision to remove Regional Strategies was based on clear evidence that they did not work. We are determined to address this through our clear and comprehensive approach to reform: promoting economic growth and recovery through incentives such as the New Homes Bonus and a reformed Community Infrastructure Levy; encouraging local authorities to work together effectively across their boundaries through a strengthened duty to co-operate; and driving house building by combining the incentives we are introducing with the removal of top down targets."
The text of the Government Response itself is largely a reiteration of its long-held position on the matters by the Committee in the Report. In particular, the document roundly dismisses the suggestion that interim guidance or transitional arrangements are needed to cover the abolition of RSSs. Similarly, the argument that uncertainty created by the Government's actions has created problems in the preparation of local plans is roundly rejected. The Committee's doubts about the capacity of proposed arrangements to deliver sufficient new homes also elicits a robust response; the Government prays in aid the New Homes Bonus, and refers to evidence that the number of housing starts is rising, in support of its position.
On the other hand, it does appear that the Committee's Report has, in other respects, been reflected in Government policy. For example, amendments to the Localism Bill to strengthen the duty to co-operate in Part 5, Chapter 1 appears to be a consequence, at least in part, of the inquiry process.
Subsequently Clive Betts, Chair of the Committee, replied to Secretary of State Pickes in a letter dated 18 July. In the letter he said that the Committee was "disappointed by the Government’s response, which largely fails to take account of the weight of evidence which the Committee received in two particular areas. The first is the need for a stronger framework for strategic planning at the larger-than-local level; the second, the problems of practice and of principle associated with the New Homes Bonus scheme." He went on to express further concern about the capacity of the Government's proposed arrangements to deliver housing, referring to the absence of a fallback position if the New Homes Bonus were to fail. He concluded: "Failing what would be a welcome change in Government policy in the light of the substantial weight of evidence submitted to us, I would expect us to return to this subject […] to see to what extent our concerns have been borne out in practice."