Infrastructure chiefs want call in powers to be restricted

Two-thirds of infrastructure providers believe that limiting the communities secretary's scope for calling in applications would significantly improve the planning system, according to a survey of business leaders.

Wind energy: infrastructure providers believe reducing call in powers would improve the planning system
Wind energy: infrastructure providers believe reducing call in powers would improve the planning system

The CBI/URS Infrastructure Survey of 443 business leaders found that 67 per cent of infrastructure providers "believe reducing the scope for the communities and local government secretary of state to call in projects would significantly improve the planning system".

According to the report, since 2011 the number of cases which missed statutory targets at recovery or call in stage has increased year on year from three to 28.

"Calling in projects without a clear timetable for resolution has the potential to serious damage not only the investment prospects in particular projects, but also the UK's reputation as a place to invest," the report said.

"Local growth cannot be held hostage by political whim, and if we are serious about attracting investment, government needs to introduce a time-limit on these planning decisions."

According to the study, businesses "overwhelmingly agree" (96 per cent) that the UK's planning system is a barrier to the delivery of new infrastructure projects.

Businesses and infrastructure providers both put longer-term infrastructure planning at the top of their list of priorities to improve the planning system, the survey found.

Eighty-six per cent of businesses and 90 per cent of infrastructure providers that responded to the survey said that streamlining the process for obtaining non-planning consents would help get projects built.

Eighty-five per cent of businesses cited boosting skills and capacity in local planning departments as a priority for improving the planning system, according to the survey.

URS head of town planning Martin Herbert said: "There is overwhelming support for a long-term approach to infrastructure planning. As many as 91 per cent support a 30-year plan, which is double the length of any plan we have now. This longer term approach, extending well beyond the five-year electoral cycle, would also inform strategic development planning.
"There is also support for local government and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) to have greater control of infrastructure spending. The vast majority (85 per cent) of respondents believe greater collaboration between neighbouring local authorities and LEPs would improve the delivery of local priority infrastructure projects. Clearly there is a greater role for LEPs in helping build strategic planning."

In September, renewable energy trade association RenewableUK condemned the communities secretary's "unprecedented interference" in wind farm projects as it published figures showing that Eric Pickles had intervened in 50 such applications since June 2013.

Taking the long view: a new approach to infrastructure is available here.

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