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There's a hierachy. I believe it works like this.
National government sets objectives for the nation as a whole, and then identifies how each RDA/DA must contribute.
RDAs/DAs then look at the national plan, their regional priorities and will devise regional plans.
With the regional plan as a point of reference, local councils will decide whether an application fits with the national and regional objectives (although this is really only important when looking at large devlopments, or networks of smaller devlopments that might have a cumulatively large effect).
There should be lots and lots of joined up thinking. e.g. You'd anticipate needing new houses where business is growing, new houses make demands on transport so there may be a need for improved roads and new rail lines/stations. And you wouldn't normally choose to develop areas which are at flood risk, or where you might have problems with the increased demand for water.
The problems really arise because from pure economics, it would make sense to concrete huge areas of countryside (which people don't like). Also, the project nature of civil engineering works means that whilst the sums normally add up for new houses, they rarely seem to for significant enhancements of transport. That means that many new developments are under-provided for and further gridlock ensues.
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