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Streamlined planning; the developers perspective

Property developers and local authorities in the UK are becoming increasingly frustrated with the government’s approach to planning and infrastructure.

Paul Carter, leader of Kent County Council and himself a property developer, took the opportunity to confront the Housing and Planning Minister Yvette Cooper during a seminar this week at the House of Commons about the damage being done to the cause of sustainable development by the lack of infrastructure funding.

He made plain the frustration the county council is experiencing due to the growing complexity of the national planning system and the weakening of elected local authorities whose powers are being transferred to regional agencies.

The Minister was speaking of the Government’s intentions to improve the transparency and flexibility of local and regional plan-making. But most of those representing local government at this seminar sponsored by the All-Party Parliamentary Built Environment Group seemed to be convinced that the recently reformed system is anything but transparent and flexible.

Ms. Cooper was speaking in the light of the new report on land use planning produced by the economist Kate Barker. She wrote the review of housing supply published in March 2004 which has had considerable influence on the government’s approach to sustainable development and affordable housing.

Kate Barker wants the planning process to be streamlined so that future development plans can be delivered in half the 36 to 40 months they now take on average to produce. So does the Government but the view from the floor was that development decisions are now taking longer to reach and even longer to implement. Two of the Government’s designated growth areas are in Kent – Thames Gateway and Ashford.

Paul Carter told Yvette Cooper that the regional planning that has replaced Kent’s own structure plan should be removed, demanding that local authorities should be more involved in local planning decisions and be freed from an excessively complex system. Realising the government’s determination to strengthen regional government still further, Kate Barker makes no recommendations about the return of planning powers to the local authorities. Indeed, she has proposed a new system for dealing with major infrastructure projects based on national statements of strategic objectives and an independent planning commission to determine applications.

One of Paul Carter’s concerns at present is the blockage over major transport investment for the Kent Thames Gateway expansion which government documents as far back as 1995 described a regional and national priority. A statement in Kent’s newly prepared sub-regional strategy for Thames Gateway sets out the nature of the blockage. The growth area is in fact a gateway, it says, to the road and rail routes from the Channel ports, Eurotunnel and the deep sea ports of the Medway and Sheerness.

The development potential is concentrated into an area defined by the A2 trunk road and M2 motorway on one side and the River Thames on the other. Here road improvements are in progress to cater for planned growth. But, "The Highways Agency has objected to planning applications for six sites in Dartford because of concern and uncertainty about the impact on M25, A282 and A2 junctions, and cautions against additional development at Thameside.

“Very high shares of public transport use for local movements within Thameside are planned, and this relies on developer funding of the bus priority route, Fastrack. “The development of major regeneration sites in Medway also depends on new public transport capacity. Elsewhere, all major traffic flows in Sittingbourne and the Isle of Sheppy pass through the M2/A249 Junction 5, which is increasingly congested and will become a constraint to development.”

A new Lower Thames Crossing is being studied to improve transport links in the Thames Gateway. It could help to unlock existing problems, says the strategy document, but would have far reaching implications. One of the implications is funding the new crossing along with all the road and rail improvements required to make the new Thameside communities sustainable.

Meanwhile, says the report, there needs to be an understanding with the Highways Agency of the overall impact of development on the trunk and motorway network, and greater certainty in the delivery and use of public transport networks.

For Kent County Council, Paul Carter told Yvette Cooper that if she wants the Thames Gateway expansion to succeed the government must recognise the need for full infrastructure funding. Since her husband is Ed Balls, Economic Secretary to the Treasury and a close colleague of Gordon Brown, that message should be conveyed quickly enough.

For her part, the Minister welcomed the constructive views of the local authority representatives and told them that the government is working towards publication of a planning White Paper later this year. In the interim her Department for Communities and Local Government has the unenviable task of sorting out the controversial Planning Gain Supplement, also proposed by Kate Barker.

Developers such as Paul Carter, with some 30 years of experience in this field, are strongly opposed to PGS as just another obstacle to development, as if there were not enough already.

From: Frustration mounts over UK’s planning and infrastructure, International construction review, 2 February 2007

Source: Adding complexity

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