Liberalising planning restrictions is a step in the right direction

6th September 2012

Commenting on the government's housing and planning announcements, Dr Adam Marshall, Director of Policy and External Affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: -Infrastructure is the lifeblood of British business - delivering confidence, orders, jobs and competitiveness.

The government's proposals to liberalise planning restrictions and back housebuilding are a step in the right direction. However, businesses would like to see more radical action, with selective use of greenbelt land around our cities, and even more applications taken out of the planning system altogether. On housing and infrastructure guarantees: -If we are to see a recovery in housebuilding, investors must be given the confidence to put their money into schemes up and down the country. Business will appreciate the pace with which the government is moving to put its new housing and infrastructure guarantees in place, as they have the potential to help create jobs and orders for many UK firms. Ministers should stand ready to unblock major schemes, though, not simply assume that guarantees alone will do the job. On the expansion of 'permitted development' rights for businesses and homeowners:  -It is common sense to get as many businesses and householders as possible out of the red tape and bureaucracy of planning applications. So we welcome the extension of permitted development rights, which will enable many companies to escape months of form-filling, expense, and drawn-out decision-making. However, these new rights should continue indefinitely, rather than expire after just a short time. -Ministers should also be bolder, and triple the space companies can create without planning permission, rather than just allowing an extra 100m2 for shops and 200m2 for industrial units. At the same time, they should further liberalise the use class system, which prevents far too many buildings from being used as business space. On a fast track application process for major developments:  -Over the years, businesses have been promised a number of 'fast track' planning processes. It is important that this time, a faster procedure is actually put in place swiftly so that major developments do not get stuck in limbo. -We welcome the announcement that businesses will be able to bypass poor-performing councils and have decisions taken by the Planning Inspectorate, once legislation is passed. BCC research has shown that many councils override the advice of their own planning officers when it comes to taking key decisions, meaning that many applications are being turned down for political reasons rather than on their merits. On the use of greenbelt land:  -Encouraging local councillors to vote for targeted development on greenbelt land is akin to asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. Councils already have this power, and make almost no use of it to support vital business expansion or housebuilding. -Ministers should do the public a service and bust the oft-repeated myth that 'the greenbelt is under threat'. It isn't. To support growth, they should use legislation this autumn to create a new power to de-designate selected greenbelt sites where there is an overriding economic case for development.

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