Institute of Economic Development conference offers planning insights

The Institute of Economic Development's annual conference took place in west London earlier this month. Here are five things we learned about planning and economic development at the event:

Peace: maintains that Community Infrastructure Levy has become overcomplicated
Peace: maintains that Community Infrastructure Levy has become overcomplicated

1. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) may not roll out permitted development (PD) rights any further. Chief planner Steve Quartermain told delegates that the government is "considering" the responses it received to a recent consultation on making permanent the temporary office-to-residential PD rights. He said: "We’ve had challenges on the economic impact and standard of conversions. Some people are saying some conversions are too small and too cramped. That’s a balance we need to strike."

2. The DCLG is not keen on progressing city-region spatial plans now greater English devolution is being planned. Keynote speaker Lord Heseltine spoke of how English devolution is now "unstoppable" in the wake of the Scottish referendum. Earlier in November, the Treasury agreed to devolve powers to Greater Manchester, including a city-regional mayor with strategic planning powers. But at a later session, Quartermain suggested that, despite Greater Manchester’s move, DCLG ministers have "no intention" of introducing another layer of city-region plans, adding: "You can have greater-than-local planning but you don’t necessarily have to produce a document to carry that forward." The focus should be on local and neighbourhood plans, he said.

3. The property sector is not keen on the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) but has no alternative plan. Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said her members often complain about the fixed-rate property tax, "but if you asked what they would want in its place, there would be a fair degree of confusion". Some of those who originally backed CIL as preferable to section 106 planning gain agreements now think that the old system was fine. CIL has become "much more complicated than it needed to be", said Peace.

4. High-density employment activity in city centres creates growth while good transport connectivity is vital to this. Ian Birch, transport economist at mayoral agency Transport for London, said the capital’s economic success is due to its high employment density, with 30 per cent of its jobs located on just two per cent of its land – a figure "considerably higher" than other UK cities. This is thanks to London’s extensive internal rail networks, Birch said. Other UK cities need to "get more integrated", with projects such as the High Speed Three rail link and improved local transport, to fulfil their economic potential.

5. When planning for transport infrastructure, don’t be afraid to think big and long-term. Ciaran Gunne-Jones, economics director at consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners (NLP), told the conference that almost two-thirds of the projects involved in Local Growth Deals negotiated between the government and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) are transport-related. But for transport infrastructure to be most effective in kick-starting growth, both LEPs and councils should focus on long-term, larger transport projects, which can have an impact on a regional and sub-regional level, as well as short-term, minor upgrades whose effect is felt more locally.

For more details of the IED conference, please visit

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