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Planning Overhaul Could Ignite Growth


North East councils are being urged to embrace new planning guidelines and help ignite regional economic growth.

NECC is urging North East councils to embrace new planning guidelines and help ignite economic growthNorth East councils are being urged to embrace new planning guidelines and help ignite regional economic growth.

The North East Chamber of Commerce has underlined the importance of robust planning policy and services as the region sees the biggest cuts to council planning and development spending in the country.

The North East has the highest percentage fall in local government spending at 6%, but this has resulted in a 44% cut to regional planning and development budgets, by far the largest cut to any council service.

Nationally this picture is only slightly better with councils facing on average 4% budget cutbacks equating to 39% reductions to planning and development spending.

NECC Director of Policy, Ross Smith, said:

"The Government's austerity drive continues to impact heavily on the region and reductions to planning budgets are something of an unseen killer for economic growth.

"Councils must ensure that service levels, planning experience and current charges are all maintained and we avoid punishing levels of planning application fees in the North East when authorities are required to set their own rates."

There are now 134 jobs per sq km in the North East compared to 205 in the rest of England providing an opportunity for 50% potential growth.

"We must be pro-development," added Ross. "I don't mean approve anything, but obstacles must be removed so businesses can find and develop appropriate sites.

"As a region we have huge potential. By grabbing the opportunity created by planning reform we could deliver a major chunk of the growth the UK economy needs, but that more congested regions will struggle to deliver.

"The North East has the lowest land costs and energy prices, enormous resource availability and a lack of congestion that should see businesses flocking to and expanding in the region, but restrictive planning policy is hampering many."

NECC sees regional capacity for growth as a competitive advantage. The NPPF has been designed to make it easier, but planners must be quick to adopt proposals.

Ross said:

"As a region we must focus on proactive planning and see the role of planning as much more than a development control policeman. Achieving this culture change will be more effective than any legal change.

"The new presumption in favour of sustainable growth does not mean blanket development, but places an onus on local authorities and statutory consultees to proactively help overcome issues to otherwise sustainable schemes."

A survey of planning applicants by the British Chambers of Commerce shows:

• 39% did not have applications dealt with in the statutory timescale.
• 69% believe decisions often made on political grounds
• 56% believe decisions often contrary to officers' advice
• 30% of appellants say appeal took over six months
• 60% say appeal was granted
• 72% say advice is different depending on local authority
• 59% say they are unable to speak to planning committee members

Ross said:

"Having a single framework increases accessibility to information and will enable a much better understanding of planning policy, which will hopefully make it easier for developers and business to contribute to it in the future.

"We must embrace the ethos of saying yes as quickly as possible – this doesn't mean giving due consideration to projects that could be detrimental to the North East's environment, it means getting to the correct decision faster. We should welcome development more than any other area as we have more capacity for development than any other area.

"There has been a clear fall in the number of decisions being made over past five years but if anything it is worse that decisions are not being made within set timescales."