Why out-of-date data means councils may be missing out on economic opportunities

An intensified focus on increasing housing supply has outmuscled councils' work on employment land data, leaving evidence bases out-of-date in many instances, research suggests.

Employment land: many councils using outdated evidence, report says
Employment land: many councils using outdated evidence, report says

A report published by consultancy Turley has found that half of all English councils are using employment land data that pre-dates 2012’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), while that used by councils within one local enterprise partnership area pre-dated the recession. The consultancy said its snapshot, put together in June and July this year, showed an "urgent need" to get evidence bases in place for large parts of the country.

The NPPF says evidence bases do not need a comprehensive review more frequently than every five years, but require regular updates. Turley’s research found that 36 local planning authority areas had neither an adopted local plan, nor employment-land evidence bases that could be considered up-to-date.

Report co-author and Turley planning director David Smith said a renewed focus on housing land supply coupled with the impact of the recession on commercial development was likely to have de-prioritised work on reviews.

"In not having very rigorous and up-to-date understanding of the economic needs of developers in your area, you might well be missing the opportunity to bring in even more economic development than had been thought possible," he said.

Smith said logistics was one development area that had grown significantly in recent years that old evidence bases would not take account of. However, he conceded that councils with out-of-date figures could still be very much pro-economic development and may not feel their decision-making was hampered.

Richard Pestell, senior associate at consultancy Peter Brett Associates, agreed a focus on housing had overshadowed employment land work. But he said recent months had seen a surge in commercial development interest that made councils recognise employment land reviews were long overdue.

"It used to be the case that councils routinely over-allocated employment land so that - outside of London - there was often more supply than developers needed, especially in terms of surplus of office space," he said. "We’ve seen councils turn a corner, and there’s much more interest in reviews now." Pestell added that recognition of the need to better align housing and employment evidence for local plans to be found sound at examination was also a factor.

Catriona Riddell, strategic planning convenor for the Planning Officers Society, said pressure from housing developers for unused employment sites to be turned over for residential use was a significant issue that was being endorsed by emerging government policy.

"The fact that most councils are struggling to meet their housing needs is making it really hard to protect employment land so there isn’t much point in carrying out an employment land review," she said. "Even sites that would probably not have been used for housing in the past - such as industrial estates - are now being considered."

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