Enterprise zones fail to get orders in place

A group of enterprise zones remain without simplified planning regimes, 18 months after concerns were raised about take-up, Planning has learned.

Northampton: Waterside enterprise zone has adopted local development order
Northampton: Waterside enterprise zone has adopted local development order

Last year, Planning identified eight zones that had yet to adopt local development orders (LDOs), two years after the government urged local authorities to do so to speed up development and attract businesses.

However, research by Planning suggests that only one of these zones has since brought forward an LDO in the past 18 months.

LDOs, which were introduced in 2004, grant automatic planning permission for certain kinds of development in a specified area. This week, a report by the parliamentary All-Party Urban Development Group called for even simpler rules for enterprise zones.

It said: "Renewed consideration also needs to be given to introducing powers for using 'Enterprise Zone Schemes' for the grant of planning permission, instead of relying on LDOs as the means to simplify the planning process in the zones."

Margaret Baddeley, planning director at planning consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, which helped draw up the report, said: "LDOs can be useful in some circumstances, but they can take quite a bit of effort to draw up.

"Orders in the 1980s zones made things simpler by defining what sort of development would not be allowed rather than what would."

In 2011, government enterprise zone guidance stipulated that the areas should have LDOs in place by March 2012, but by March 2013, eight remained without one.

In July of this year, Harlow Council adopted an LDO for its zone, which was one of the eight without an order. However, four of the remaining seven have confirmed to Planning that they have not adopted an order, while the other three are understood not to have done so.

Chris Payne, head of planning policy at Gosport Borough Council, one of the authorities overseeing the Solent Enterprise Zone, said: "We investigated and felt that the outline application process would move things ahead quicker and lead to a higher quality of development."

Steffan Saunders, head of neighbourhoods and prosperity at Broxtowe Borough Council, one of the councils overseeing the Nottingham Enterprise Zone, said: "Our decision not to pursue an LDO was for a mixture of pragmatic and financial reasons, on the basis that we did not see areas that would necessarily be speeded up by going down that route."

A source at Nottingham City Council confirmed that it has not implemented any LDOs on any of the zone sites within its boundaries.

Clara Kerr, Huntingdonshire Council development management officer, confirmed that there is no LDO on its enterprise zone on the former Alconbury airfield.

But she added: "We have introduced a planning protocol that we and the developer have signed."

Hinkley and Bosworth Council also confirmed that there is no order in place at its MIRA Technology Park zone. However, in December 2013 it agreed to delegate all decisions on applications at the park to officers, in a bid to prevent applications being slowed by the committee process.

The Mersey Waters zone is split in two. Planning has established that the Wirral section does not have an LDO, but developer Peel had not responded for a request for information relating to the Liverpool Waters part of the zone at the time of going to press.

However, Paul Shuker, director of planning at WYG Group, which helped Peel achieve planning permission for the Liverpool Waters scheme, said: "At that time we were so far down the route - it was six years in formulation - that it did not seem logical to drop the whole strategy of going for an outline permission to pursue an LDO."

In 2013, Halton Borough Council adopted its core strategy, which stated its intention to introduce an LDO for its enterprise zone. However, it said last year that these plans had been delayed.

Simon Ricketts, planning partner at law firm King & Wood Mallesons, said LDOs are useful tools that could help some councils.

But he added: "I think that they are more appropriate where you have a large amount of existing employment floorspace and it would be helpful to allow for extensions and changes of use, rather than a regeneration area with a lot of development planned."

Baddeley added that it is more difficult to amend an LDO to incorporate changes to a planned development than through an ordinary planning permission.

Last week, figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government revealed that enterprise zones have created fewer than a quarter of the jobs that the government initially estimated that they would generate by 2015. The department was approached for a comment but had not replied by the time of going to press.

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