Osborne rips up planning rules

GEORGE Osborne is pushing for sweeping changes to Britain’s planning regime as part of a package of low-cost measures designed to kick-start growth, City A.M. has learned.

He wants to make it much easier for companies to obtain planning consent for new projects – even if they go against the wishes of local residents – allowing them to expand their businesses while also providing a timely boost for the construction sector.

The changes would also enable ministers to fast-track large scale infrastructure like nuclear power stations.

But the Treasury’s decision to try to overhaul the planning system has put it on a collision course with Eric Pickles, the communities secretary. It sits uneasily with his localism agenda, which aims to devolve control over planning decisions to local communities which are often resistant to building projects.

One source close to the negotiations said: “We’ve had lots of meetings with ministers from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). We’re now close to agreeing a pro-growth package.”

Osborne hopes the planning shake-up will form the centrepiece of a series of reforms designed to boost economic growth without the need for more government spending. He is also likely to announce the scrapping of some costly regulations, in a bid to free up cash for investment as well as various other supply side reforms.

An ally of the chancellor said: “We’ll be explaining that Labour was wrong to say that the only way to be pro-growth is to spend loads of money.”

The measures will be contained in a Growth Review, which will be unveiled alongside the Budget on 23 March. The chancellor decided to take control of the review because he was unhappy with the quality of ideas coming from Vince Cable’s business department.

However, in a speech to a City audience last night, Cable insisted he was fully signed up to the measures contained in the review.

Businesses have been disheartened by the coalition’s approach to planning since it won power last May. It is abolishing the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which was set up by the previous government and was widely seen as a valuable bulwark against nimbyism.

Firms also complain that local planning authorities are too focused on the wishes of residents rather than businesses.