Survey details development chiefs' priorities

Securing targeted government funding is a council's best lever for driving local economic development, according to a survey of senior council officers.

Research conducted for planning consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners (NLP) found 76 per cent of planning and economic development chief officers believed that securing cash from sources like the Growing Places Fund or the Regional Growth Fund was the best way they could support growth.

In second place, 71 per cent of respondents said working with business-led local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) was a "significant" or "very significant" lever.

Securing enterprise zone status for key sites and creating local development orders, which ease planning retrictions in certain areas, were seen as the least important available levers, ranked as "significant" or "very significant" by just 24 per cent and 27 per cent of respondents respectively.

Launching the findings at this year’s Institute for Economic Development annual conference last week, NLP director Matthew Spry said there was very little work of greater importance to councils than positioning their boroughs to be "open for business".

"Our research shows that the top strategic priority for 91 per cent of local authorities is supporting local businesses," he said.

"The role of planning is to support this agenda through meeting the needs for development, putting forward clear propositions for growth, and removing both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ barriers to investment."

The survey of 35 senior officers from councils across the country also found that the availability of resources to help boost business growth was seen as a greater challenge than a lack of legal powers to act.

Eighty-one per cent of respondents said their authority lacked the resources to address local economic-development issues, but only 37.5 per cent said they lacked the powers to do so.

NLP’s Spry highlighted that senior officers’ top strategic priority was seen as providing pro-active support for local businesses to grow (91 per cent).

The lowest priority of that particular shopping list was "encouraging the change of use of redundant buildings" which just 31 per cent of respondents ranked as important or very important.

Full details of the survey can be found in NLP’s Well Placed to Grow? report.

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