Relax the planning system to speed up economic recovery

Ian Mean
Director of Business West Gloucestershire | Business West
23rd June 2020

As business plans its way out of coronavirus, I believe the relaxation of our complex planning system will be a key factor.

It has been mooted before. But it now must happen to meet the needs of many businesses in Gloucestershire which now need to change how they work to survive and prosper.

The new norm will mean that many will be downsizing with more employees working from home for parts of the week.

Here in Gloucestershire, planning is far from easy with so many district councils involved.

I hope that we can now really get to grips with planning in terms of a clear regional planning policy.

As part of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s work for a forthcoming White Paper on planning, it appears that large scale housing developments could be fast-tracked through the planning system.

Building on largest developments could allow construction to begin within twelve months of plans being submitted.

A post-COVID recovery paper to government from the Unlock Britain Commission came up with the planning shake-up ideas calling for reform of what they called the “Byzantine planning system”.

And in a week when shops started re-opening, I was struck by an innovative idea on planning and the revival of our high streets from Bill Grimsey, former boss of Wickes and Iceland.

He claims that half of retailers were at risk of going bust even before the coronavirus outbreak and says there must be “an understanding that the challenges facing our towns and high streets are simply too big for Westminster.

“They cannot be solved by pulling big levers in Whitehall.”

He is right.

Bill Grimsey’s report says that councils must have new powers, so that unused or neglected properties are forced back onto the market to be purchased by community trusts for their neighbourhoods.

He also believes that the business rates system needs replacing - perhaps with a sales tax.

When the Chancellor delivers his July economic boost, he should reform business rates to relieve business of a burden which gives them no benefit.

He must also ensure that big construction projects are given the green light to help what is destined to be a major jobs crisis.

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