By Max Clarke

The current complexity, cost and uncertainty of the planning system remain a major barrier to local economic growth in every part of the UK, the British Chambers of Commerce have said in light of the current debate surrounding planning reform.

The leading business organisation has surveyed more than 5,300 companies, confirming that business confidence and investment are both being hurt by the country’s unwieldy planning process. They also found that current debate is sensational and polarised, between NIMBYs with little business knowledge and developers who people fear will add to urban sprawl.

“Our survey findings clearly show that the planning process is a barrier for companies of all sizes — and that in some cases, it’s holding back the economic growth we so desperately need,” said the BCC’s new Director General, John Longworth, who yesterday replaced John Cridland.

The Chambers support the broad aim of the government’s efforts to simplify the national planning framework, arguing that it must be rebalanced so that it favours responsible development and allows companies on existing industrial estates, in cities, and in established rural business areas to invest in premises, jobs, and growth potential. The business organisation believes that the government’s proposals will result in modest but welcome improvements to the system — and that pressure group threats of a ‘huge political battle’ against the proposals are misplaced.

“We need to get the debate on planning reform away from hysteria and back to common sense. Businesspeople understand that planning has a purpose, and that developers can’t just build anything, anywhere,” continued Longworth. “It’s not a case of throwing out the rulebook to grow the economy at any cost. Yet there’s clear evidence that the system is too complicated, too costly, and too uncertain. It creates mistrust among businesses, undermines investment, and holds back our recovery.”

“It cannot be right that sensible proposals to reform and improve the planning system are portrayed as changes that will lead to urban sprawl, environmental degradation and shoddy buildings.”

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