Chambers call for planning reform

Aug 30, 2007

The three chambers that make up the South East Midlands Chamber Alliance contributed to a paper published by the British Chambers of Commerce in response to the government’s planning white paper consultation.

The BCC calls for local planners to be allowed to focus on local developments, improving the speed and efficiency with which decisions are made. It argues that long-term business prospects are suffering due to the uncertainty, complexity and lengthy delays of the existing planning regime.

The paper follows the launch of the BCC’s ‘Get Britain Moving’ campaign, which highlighted a series of national infrastructure development proposals stuck in the planning process for decades.

The campaign backs the planning white paper proposals to transfer responsibility for nationally important planning projects to an independent planning commission. It also calls for minor planning decisions, including small-scale property improvements, to be exempted from the planning system.

Richard Lacy (pictured), chief executive of the Chamber, which represents businesses in Bedfordshire and Luton, said: “The three chambers that make up SEMCA wholeheartedly agree with the case for reforming the current planning system for nationally significant infrastructure.

“At both national and local level, we need to see a radical streamlining of the planning process. Projects vital to the development of local economies, not to mention our national infrastructure, are being delayed due to an overly complex system that puts too much pressure on ill equipped local planning departments.

“Placing responsibility for national scale projects with an independent commission will allow local planners to focus attention and resources on their own areas, making prompt decisions over developments vital to local economic interests.”

SEMCA has called for concentration on local circumstances and actual and projected demand. Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire will accommodate 210,000 new homes and 170,000 new jobs by 2021. Mr Lacy said: “The business community is clear that delivery of housing and economic growth on such an unprecedented scale must be supported by significant investment and improvement in all aspects of supporting infrastructure without delay.’

The paper makes a series of recommendations for planning departments to improve effective decision-making:

• Develop the skills and capacities for planning personnel, particularly the poorly trained councillors currently sitting on planning committees.

• Apply community engagement exercises early in the planning process, with consideration given to the limited capacity of small and medium-0sized enterprises to take part in lengthy processes.

• Apply realistic planning application fees that do not deter businesses from seeking to expand due to excessive planning costs.

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