Planning laws reformed in quest to boost growth

BUSINESS groups yesterday welcomed the publication of the government’s Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which aims to kick-start economic growth by making it easier to build new houses and invest in infrastructure.

One of the changes will enable energy generation firms to improve their plans by incorporating new technology without having to re-apply for full planning permission.

There will also be major investment in super-fast broadband and change to the law in the hope of encouraging a £160m investment in the nation’s gas distribution network.

Meanwhile some firms are set to benefit while others will lose out from a delay in commercial property revaluations, which was due in 2015. Current values date from 2008 so postponement to 2017 will affect firms differently depending on whether property prices have risen or fallen since then in their area.

Previously announced proposals that have made it into the draft legislation include removing the obligation on some housebuilders to contribute to community projects, introducing a fast-track planning process for large projects and reducing the red tape associated with gaining planning permission.

There will also be the introduction of “employee-owner” status that will enable workers to swap employment rights for shares in their firm.

Corin Taylor of the The Institute of Directors said he was pleased with the draft legislation: “Measures such as allowing developers to improve their plans mid-way through the process without having to start from scratch, making sure those putting forward plans only need to fill out the relevant paperwork, and removing unaffordable extra obligations could all help to bring forward stalled development and attract more investment into construction.”

The CBI’s Nicola Walker added: “These legislative proposals should help to streamline and speed up the planning process, unblocking development and allowing companies to invest, grow and create jobs.”

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The Bill is all about helping our country compete in the global race and building an aspiration nation where we back those who want to get on life.”

WHAT’S IN THE BILL?

Sites where development has stalled can be “unlocked” by removing the obligation to provide economically unrealistic community contributions to local projects or affordable housing.

Reductions to the planning burden by only requiring applicants to submit relevant documents to their local council.

Nationally-important developments such as large infrastructure projects will have the ability to by-pass the local planning process and receive a verdict within 12 months.

Measures to make it easier for councils to sell surplus land held for planning purposes, helping to get brownfield sites back into use.

Removal of overlapping planning consent schemes.

Making it easier for electricity-generating firms to update their technology mid-build by ending the need to re-apply for full planning permission.

Postponing a planned revaluation of commercial property for business rates, currently based on 2008 property prices, until at least 2017.

Introducing an “employee-owner” scheme where firms issue new contracts offering staff equity in return for giving up some of their rights.

Removing red tape that delays the introduction of super-fast broadband to homes, especially in the countryside.

Developers will be able to appeal directly to the planning inspectorate if they feel that a council is too slow.

Changing the law to allow energy regulator Ofgem to hold an innovation competition, in the hope of attracting £160m of investment for the gas network.