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BPF chief executive Liz Peace on today’s budget planning reforms

The planning system has held back investment and created distortions in the way that businesses compete, deterring development and growth. To address this, the Government will:
* introduce a new presumption in favour of sustainable development, so that the default answer to development is ‘yes’;

Liz Peace said: "The Government has indicated its intention to introduce a presumption in favour of sustainable development as part of the National Planning Policy Framework. We see the presumption as a crucial part of the Government’s pro-growth agenda and as a counterweight to concerns that localism could equate to nimbyism in practice, however, it must not be hedged around with so many restrictions as to be meaningless in practice."

* localise choice about the use of previously developed land, removing nationally imposed targets while retaining existing controls on greenbelt land;

Liz Peace said: "It is right that planning should prevent urban sprawl but the designation as green belt should not mean ruling out any development – the green belt should be an additional hurdle, not an insuperable barrier. Removing the targets for the proportion of new development on brownfield land should inject more flexibility, allowing much needed housing and new development to take place where brownfield land is scarce. That includes much of the South East where housing pressures are so acute."

* pilot a land auction model, starting with public sector land;

Liz Peace said: "It is right that Government should look at innovative approaches for bringing forward more land for development. However, we have serious doubts about the practicality of land auctions. We find it difficult to see how they can be compatible with the current planning system or with the Government’s Localism agenda."

* introduce a number of measures to streamline the planning applications and related consents regimes removing bureaucracy from the system and speeding it up. This will include a 12 month guarantee for the processing of all planning applications, including any appeals;

Liz Peace said: "We welcome measures to streamline the planning system and related consents regimes through the removal of bureaucracy, particularly as local authority resources are stretched thinly at the moment. We welcome the 12 month guarantee, however we are concerned that this additional pressure could result in unnecessary rejections."

* consult on proposals to make it easier to convert commercial premises to residential.

Liz Peace said: "We hope local authorities will view this very positively. Supporting office to residential conversions will provide them with a double boost to their income, via the New Homes Bonus and the fact that there are replacing a central Government tax – business rates, with local council tax receipts. If that were not enough, conversion work will provide a much needed boost to jobs and growth and revitalise some rather shabby looking blots on our townscapes."

Enterprise Zones

1.104 The Government will make a range of policy tools available to all 21 zones:
* a 100 per cent business rate discount worth up to £275,000 over a five year period for businesses that move into an Enterprise Zone during the course of this Parliament;
* all business rates growth within the zone for a period of at least 25 years will be retained and shared by the local authorities in the LEP area to support their economic priorities;
* Government and local authority help to develop radically simplified planning approaches in the zone; and
* Government support to ensure superfast broadband is rolled out in the zone. This will be achieved through guaranteeing the most supportive planning environment and, if necessary, public funding.

Liz Peace said: "The BPF supports the setting up of new enterprise zones. Previous EZs in the UK served to kick start a process of regeneration which would not otherwise have been possible with new factories, offices and other commercial development being delivered in some very challenging areas and times. The long term transformation of London Docklands bears testament to this.

"Drawing on the experience of previous EZs and other area based initiatives the BPF believes that the following issues should be taken into account in drawing up proposals for a new set of Enterprise Zones:

* The focus should be on stimulating new businesses, business growth and job creation. Areas for EZs should not, therefore, be identified purely on the basis of social or economic deprivation but rather on the basis that the locations and resulting development will be capable of becoming and remaining higher quality locations beyond the duration of zone designation.

* Infrastructure provision and accessibility are critical to the success of an EZ, particularly in terms of transport, its capacity and the timing of its provision, but also in terms of access to the technology infrastructure needed to serve businesses.

* To ensure that the new Enterprise Zones are located in the areas where they could offer the greatest benefits we see a lot of merit in a competitive application process.

* There is a need to avoid the wasted years that usually follow when a new organisation is set up. As LEPs are unlikely to be fully functional for some time, however, the only real alternative may be to bolt these onto local authorities.

* We also see a case for the nature of incentives on offer being adjusted to take account of the requirements and characteristics of different areas.

* Tax incentives were integral to the success of previous EZs. The Government may not be in a position to offer lavish fiscal incentives and so what is available will need to be carefully targeted.

* Another key plank of EZs was the encouragement of occupier demand by offering business rate relief. We would also emphasise that unless rate relief is available in EZs for empty commercial premises then construction of new development in anticipation of demand – especially from SMEs, which cannot always commit to pre-lets years in advance – will be severely undermined.

* Simplified planning regimes – the scope for development to proceed without going through the usual planning application process (but within locally defined, general guidelines) – should be an important part of any package of measures aimed at encouraging developers to supply buildings ahead of market demand"

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