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Businesses lambast planning system’s performance

Words: Huw Morris

Businesses are facing increasing problems engaging with the planning system to find land and premises, with the drive for housing coming at the expense of employment.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which surveyed 944 businesses and convened a national panel of experts on the planning system, found 28 per cent of firms could not access the land and premises they need.

Its report says that only 15 per cent of businesses believe the planning system is now easier to engage with since the introduction of the NPPF five years ago, with 20 per cent saying it is more difficult to deal with and 27 per cent say there has been no change.

Businesses perceive a lack of prioritisation for economic development and growth, citing unacceptable delays in the time taken for planning applications to be determined. Around a third did not have their planning applications determined within statutory timescales, while more than a third of businesses did not receive pre-application advice within an acceptable timescale.

Changes in national planning policy are taking too long to impact at the local level, said the BCC, with companies citing the failure of the duty to cooperate between authorities, and an increasing resistance to economic development in neighbourhood plans, “aggravated by the undue weight given to them in planning decisions”. A quarter of firms said neighbourhood planning had a negative impact compared with 23 per cent who thought it had a positive impact.

The BCC said new housing must not come at the expense of jobs and councils should be required to maintain a five-year supply of employment land. Spatial planning at a city-regional level should be introduced on a statutory basis to help balance the need for jobs and homes.

The drive for housing is also leading to new homes being built too close to businesses, creating tensions between firms and residents, with 13 per cent saying they had been adversely affected by the planning proposals of others. Councils should also ensure an adequate supply of commercial office space to mitigate the conversion to residential uses of vacant space in towns and city centres.

At the same time, businesses are witnessing a reduction in skills and resources in planning departments, impairing the speed, quality and consistency of decision-making and increasing the cost of engaging with the planning system.

The number, range and complexity of conditions attached to planning permissions are another bugbear, particularly pre-commencement conditions, which are often disproportionate, contributing to increased costs and unacceptable delays. Around half of businesses had unexpected conditions added to their permissions and, of these, 51 per cent did not believe the conditions to be proportionate or reasonable.

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