1. Planning is a key tool for attracting investment. Planning can provide certainty to investors, according to Peter Paddon, the Department for International Trade’s (DIT’s) planning and infrastructure consent specialist. Paddon said: "If it can be demonstrated to businesses looking for new premises that there are sites with planning permission in place to allow them to start operating, that’s a key factor in determining what site they can choose."
New research by consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners (NLP), launched at the conference, found that high infrastructure costs were cited by local authorities and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) as the biggest planning barrier to attracting inward investment. According to the study, the costs required to making a site ready for development was regarded as a significant barrier by 83 per cent of authorities and 100 per cent of LEPs.
2. Local authorities need to work closely with LEPs on planning for growth. Lucie Bailey, associate director at NLP, said effective working between LEPs and authorities, as well as with neighbouring authorities and the DIT, was critical. She said the NLP survey found "room for improvement" when it comes to collaboration between councils, LEPs and the DIT.
Paddon said it was important for local authorities and LEPs to work together on local plans: "LEPs generally have knowledge about sector needs and what’s needed on the ground. Working with local authorities, it should mean when plans are being reviewed, the right kinds of sites are allocated and the right policies coming forward to aid those investment opportunities."
3. Housebuilding is vital for economic growth. John Clancy, the Labour leader of Birmingham City Council, warned that failing to build enough homes could thwart regional growth. Clancy said: "The failure to build housing in our city regions is the one thing that will stop our great regional cities from rebalancing the economy." He described housing as a top priority for the council, adding that more housing was key to keeping graduates in the city and preventing a brain drain to London.
NLP senior director Matthew Spry told the conference that alignment between growth and house-building "is good for the economy and good for local communities". Over the past five years, Spry said, a lack of alignment between the two in places was prompting increasing concern among business leaders.
4. Not everyone is convinced by the government’s renewed focus on housebuilding. Former business secretary Sir Vince Cable had harsh words about the current administration. Speaking to Planning, the former Lib Dem minister said: "The government’s record on housebuilding is catastrophic, an absolute disaster. In the coalition, our record was pretty poor and it’s got worse. It’s a very bad situation that has serious knock-on effects for young people trying to buy into the housing market." Cable said he argued with his Tory coalition partners about their "obsession with owner-occupation" and described the government’s record on public-sector-driven housing as "absolutely appalling".
5. The West Midlands is upbeat about growth and devolution. Devolution and growth in the West Midlands featured prominently at the conference. Birmingham Council leader Clancy said the impending arrival of High Speed Two, and the decision by banking giant HSBC to move its UK headquarters to the city, was starting to "whet the appetites" of investors. He pointed out that 6,000 Londoners move to Birmingham every year. "There is a sense that there are other places [than London] to live and do business. It’s a rebalancing."
Sir John Peace, chair of the government’s Midlands Engine Project, said the region has been less succesful than others at promoting itself. The Midlands Engine, he said, would allow local authorities, LEPs, businesses and universities to work together rather than in "piecemeal".