Concern over effectiveness of enterprise zone orders

Doubts have been raised over the effectiveness of the government's proposed mechanism for relaxing planning in enterprise zones.

The coalition has repeatedly stated that it wants local enterprise partnerships to draw up local development orders (LDOs). These little-used orders allow councils to specify types of development that will not need planning permission.

But at a seminar earlier this month, Howard Dawber, strategic adviser at property management firm Canary Wharf Group, said: "I don't like LDOs because I think that they do not allow for a very broad scope.

"By narrowing the focus and specifying what development you want, you could end up excluding a company that is trying to do something different. You could find that the order is more prescriptive than permissive."

Another speaker at the seminar, Clive Dutton, who is executive director for regeneration, planning and property at the London Borough of Newham, said: "I'm a little agnostic about LDOs because it's crucial to have integrity of design in the built environment, rather than letting any development of a particular use go through."

Although the orders were introduced in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, few councils have used them. At the event, Alun Hughes, a Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) policy official specialising in enterprise zones, said: "Because LDOs have been so narrowly used in the past, the DCLG has provided dedicated officers to help enterprise zones prepare LDOs."

Hughes also said that the DCLG would consider additional measures to support business growth in enterprise zones, beyond already planned incentives such as waiving business rates for firms in the zones.

Such measures, he said, could include approaching the EC about relaxing or adapting state aid regulations governing the distribution of public funding, targeting developers with incentives and re-examining the decision to make capital allowances - under which firms can reclaim some of their capital spending - available only to certain enterprise zones in EU "assisted areas" that are focused on manufacturing.

But the DCLG later played down Hughes' comments, saying that there were no current plans to give enterprise zones greater powers.

A spokesman said: "While there are no plans to extend these powers at present, should councils and business leaders come forward with specific proposals, we are always open to ideas. It is this willingness to support enterprise zones rather than any specific commitment at this stage that the official was speaking about."

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