By Daniel Hunter
Just days ahead of the government’s promised response to the consultation on the controversial draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), expected in March, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) released further results from its planning survey of 5,300 businesses demonstrating firms’ lack of confidence in the current system.
While businesses recognise that the planning system is important, and that developers should not be able to build anything, anywhere, the survey results show that the planning system is beset by cost, complexity and inconsistency — which are slowing down growth and damaging confidence. The BCC supports the draft National Planning Policy Framework, which will introduce modest but welcome improvements to the planning system.
For many businesses, the complexity of the planning system is compounded by the need to pay for professional advice, legal fees and often the commissioning of special reports into issues such as traffic flow, or the archaeology of a site. According to the survey:
- 70% of applicants had to draw on paid-for external support at some stage during the application process;
- 86% of experienced applicants agree that they have to commission too many costly specialist reports;
- For applicants with limited experience of the planning system, 63% cite the need for professional advice as their major cost;
- For experienced applicants, 65% cite specialist consultants as the major cost area.
The complexity of the system creates uncertainty and is a major reason why many businesses decide not to submit planning applications, limiting both business expansion and economic growth.
For businesses that needed to apply for planning permission but did not submit an application, 21% said it was because of a negative perception of the planning process;
Of those that considered applying but did not, 44% said their decision damaged their plans for growth or constrained output.
There is a high level of inconsistency both within and across local authorities during planning application processes. This creates a negative outcome for many businesses that often see their expansion plans discouraged, delayed or denied.
65% of those who had applied for planning permission in different parts of the country believed that they received inconsistent advice across local authorities;
46% of applicants said they were subsequently asked for additional information that was not previously identified or requested prior to the submission stage;
67% of experienced applicants said they have experienced conflicting responses from Statutory Consultees, such as the Highways Agency and Natural England;
Over half (53%) of applicants said that when a decision on an application is finally reached, it ofren runs contrary to the advice of planning officers - suggesting that politics too often trumps the need for growth.
“Opponents of planning reform have said there is no need for radical change to the planning system," Adam Marshall, Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said.
"The evidence from good businesses trying to expand proves them wrong, and shows the huge barriers that planning creates for companies up and down the country. The complexity, cost and inconsistency of the current system discourage demand from companies wanting to grow, in turn limiting economic growth.
“The debate around planning reforms has led to accusations that the changes will mean concreting over the countryside, and poor quality building. That’s just not the case — businesses understand the need for a planning system, but in its current form it limits even the most modest expansion, tying companies up in red tape, heaping costs upon owners and discouraging firms from applying in the first place.
“The evidence is clear — the planning system is complex, costly and inconsistent, and acts as a brake on the growth and jobs businesses are being asked to deliver. The government must not retreat from its commitment to simplify the planning system. It must bring forward a national planning framework that is simple, easy-to-use and less costly. Only then will companies be empowered to invest in premises, jobs and growth.”
Join us on