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'Planning red tape seen as barrier' to new infrastructure

Words: Laura Edgar

A new survey has found that 85 per cent of infrastructure firms see red tape in the planning system as a “significant barrier” to delivery.

Turning momentum into delivery: CBI/AECOM infrastructure survey 2015  (pdf), finds a majority of the businesses surveyed concerned with the pace of progress on the delivery of infrastructure projects.

The survey of 722 businesses suggests that 61 per cent see devolution as an opportunity to improve infrastructure, with three-quarters of infrastructure firms viewing local business leadership as playing a “crucial role”.

Speaking to The Planner about the findings, Tom Venables, director – design, planning and economics at AECOM, explained that devolution “brings opportunities for better collaboration between entities that at times were previously competing, creating meaningful partnerships that go beyond a ‘duty to cooperate’”.

He added: “A more joined-up approach, with the public and private sector working in partnership, would result in the more efficient use of spending resources."

Mark Dittmer-Odell, CBI (Confederation of British Industry) head of infrastructure, added: "Business leadership in the devolution debate will be critical if we are to prioritise the infrastructure upgrades that will most effectively deliver growth. With the right leadership, devolution could help local authorities to better target the most damaging pinch-points in local infrastructure.”

While construction firms view pro-growth planning reforms as having had a positive impact on delivery, 89 per cent of businesses are concerned about the link between local planning and national priorities. “The focus is on delivery at the local level,” the report states.

82 per cent of the businesses surveyed expressed concern that “inadequate resourcing is holding back growth-generating projects” and with the costs that amount as a result of delays, 70 per cent of businesses are now prepared to pay higher planning fees if it means decisions are made quicker.

Dittmer-Odell said to The Planner: “That so many firms said they were willing to pay higher planning fees indicates the level of concern that resourcing shortages could impact on projects that are key to local growth. It is clear that businesses would only consider this in the event that it lead to an improved service though."

Venables said paying higher fees is a viable solution to speeding up decision times, “particularly on major developments, provided extra fees do go towards additional resources”.

This follows a GL Hearn and British Property Federation survey that found more than half of local planning authorities are suffering from a lack of resources which found that average submission-to-determination time for major applications across London, Greater Manchester and Bristol to be 32 weeks, which is more than double the government’s target of 13 weeks.

At a national level, the survey discusses the support businesses, particularly in the construction sector, have for the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit at the Planning Inspectorate, which was praised for having set time frames and the amount of pre-consultation that provides certainty for the developer on progress and the likelihood of approval.

However, “there remains a frustrating disconnect at the local level”. As well as the “simplification of red tape”, a large proportion of survey responses point towards the need to “ensure local growth reinforces rather than opposes national priorities”. This, the report states, “may reflect concerns that local authorities are not doing enough to facilitate infrastructure upgrades in their patch”.

Additionally, 89 per cent of business see the delivery of up-to-date local plans as a “very significant” issue while 88 per cent see the government calling-in local planning applications as another barrier to infrastructure delivery and would like to see statutory deadlines introduced.”

From the survey’s findings, AECOM and CBI make several recommendations, including:

  • Planning: Ensure that local planning decisions support the UK’s national infrastructure ambitions

  • Devolution: Boost confidence by ensuring business leadership plays a key role in setting the agenda for local infrastructure

Venables said in order to ensure local planning decisions support the UK’s ambitions for national infrastructure, “more joined-up, strategic planning” is required and the “inextricable link” between housing development and infrastructure investment must be recognised.

“This connection has been lost in many cases, particularly on major infrastructure developments that cross local authority boundaries. Including large-scale housing delivery within the remit of the recently created National Infrastructure Commission would certainly help to overcome this problem."

Richard Blyth, head of policy at the RTPI, said a debate is needed on how to fund local planning authorities.

"The RTPI’s survey of North West planning authorities shows there have been significant reductions in local planning authority budgets and staffing since 2010, with a third fewer planning staff overall, including a decrease on average of 37 per cent in planning policy staff and 27 per cent in development management staff.  These reductions are impacting on delivery and development.

"A debate is needed on how the vital work of local planning authorities can be funded in future."