Planning charter launched to kick-start development in North East

THE region’s leading business group has launched a planning charter today in an effort to kick-start private sector development in the region.

 The North East Chamber of Commerce has set out a detailed plan for public sector planning officials to follow to make sure there is sufficient commercial property available for businesses to occupy and the right levels of housing stock to meet the needs of a changing population.

NECC’s Planning Charter also recognises the enormous benefit to the economy of stimulating development which will support the region’s flagging construction sector.

 The charter calls on local planning officials to change their mindset away from controlling development and instead focusing on how to enable projects to go ahead. NECC has stressed that this is not an appeal to let sub-standard applications through, instead it is about planning departments making decisions more quickly and working with developers to improve proposals which initially fail to make the grade.

 NECC highlighted earlier this year that local authorities in the region alone are forecasting cuts in capital expenditure in excess of £800m over the next three years – a figure equivalent to 17,000 construction jobs. This problem is exacerbated by the number of planning decisions made in the North East plummeting by 42% over the past three years.

 Ross Smith, NECC head of policy, said: “The North East is facing a shortage of available commercial space as well as a paucity of housing stock in areas that are expanding. The regional economy and its geographic spread have changed dramatically since the time of declining heavy industry and we need the right premises for emerging and expanding industries and the right homes for their workforces to live in.

 “It is also clear that with shrinking public sector budgets and the cancellation of programmes such as Building Schools for the Future construction companies are facing tough times.  There are precious little development opportunities being brought forward as the public sector has no money to spend so we need to make sure that any private sector inspired projects happen as quickly as possible, otherwise we will feel the impact on our economy and jobs for years to come.”

 NECC’s Planning Charter sets out 34 actions to encourage pro-activity on the part of planning authorities; an effective pre-application process; clearly defined and accessible planning policies for developers to work with; a more streamlined approach to information gathering; better staffing levels in planning departments; closer involvement of elected councillors; better decision making; closer contact with developers; and, wider business engagement.

 Mr Smith added: “NECC’s Planning Charter is a practical approach to stimulating private sector development in the North East. By creating a smoother, more efficient planning environment in this region we will be able to attract multi-million-pound investment that will inject a new lease of life into our economy, provide much needed jobs and ensure that the North  East weathers the oncoming public sector shrinkage far more effectively than it is currently set to do.”

 Philip Baker, planning director at County Durham-based property and energy firm The Banks Group, which is supporting NECC’s campaign, said: “Whilst we fully appreciate the need for the planning process to be thorough, stringent and transparent, there is an increasing feeling across the development industries that the goals of the system have become less important than the process of reaching them, with delays consequently becoming almost inherent.

 “The private sector is universally acknowledged as the primary engine through which the UK is going to emerge from the economic situation in which we currently find ourselves, but there is a real danger that new development schemes being unnecessarily delayed will both make it much harder for this to occur, and will make it take far longer to do so than needs to be the case.”

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