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NECC: Planning Reform Will Kick-Start Growth


The North East Chamber of Commerce has thrown its weight behind a Government overhaul of the planning system in a bid to kick-start regional growth.

The North East Chamber of Commerce has thrown its weight behind a Government overhaul of the planning system in a bid to kick-start regional growth.

In a letter to Planning Minister, Greg Clark MP, NECC Chief Executive James Ramsbotham backed the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which he believes will help create greater certainty in the development process, swifter decision making, and help economically beneficial projects get the go-ahead.

The draft NPPF forms a key part of Government reforms and aims to simplify the planning system, making it more accessible and promoting sustainable growth. The draft is currently out for national consultation.

"Fundamentally, the planning system is not to blame for the weakness of the development market in the North East," said James. "However, we do believe it has a role to play in kick-starting activity.

"A clear policy framework, faster and more predictable decisions, and a commitment to working proactively to enable development to go ahead, would reduce the element of risk and give developers and their financial backers greater confidence to commit to projects.

"While local authorities have made great improvements in their performance, continued culture change is still required to achieve this and ensure best practice becomes standard practice."

Despite some economic recovery, the market for development is weak in the region. Planning authorities report a low number of submitted applications. NECC members in turn claim that regeneration schemes and brownfield developments have stalled; the market for offices and high street retail remains weak; and while activity in the housing development market is returning, this is occurring slowly.

The North East has less congestion and less pressure on environmental resources than many areas in the South. For example, the North East's water resources create greater capacity to support the growth of both the region's population and industry than exists elsewhere.

There is also greater flexibility to review the Green Belt allocation in order to ensure there is sufficient land where the market can deliver the type of housing the region needs, including executive housing.

James added:

"We do not wish to see poor development proposals go ahead, or damage done to the North East's natural assets. We simply believe that our region has greater capacity for development and a rapid adoption of the Framework will play an important part in bringing about positive change.

"Collating national planning policy into a single framework is long overdue. It would help understanding of planning policy for businesses and enable better understanding of complicated policy as well as enabling better preparation by developers and ensuring planning policy and decisions are better understood."

A survey of NECC members revealed 9% have decided against progressing development plans because of the cost, complexity, timescale and uncertainty involved in entering into the planning process. This represents a substantial amount of lost investment to the North East because businesses perceive the system to be badly out of step with their needs.

NECC hopes the NPPF will place an onus on local planning authorities to help overcome issues which prevent otherwise sustainable developments from going ahead – including through use of planning conditions or obligations where appropriate.

NECC Head of Policy and Research, said:

"While much has already been done, we would like to see local authorities encouraged to put in place clearly understood local plans that send a clear signal to the market about the type of development that will be welcomed.

"We would also like the business community to have a say in the creation of these comprehensive plans and the onus placed on the Planning Inspectorate to reject plans where enough emphasis has not been placed on business development."