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Hi-di-hiding to nothing

Getting planning permission is no holiday says Victoria Brannen.

The Negotiator

planning permission imageWhile changes to England’s planning regime are under discussion and the Localism Act is now enshrined, Victoria Brannen reports on her own challenging encounter with the planners.

Victoria Brannen image

Victoria Brannen

Within Maya Asset Management we have first-hand experience of just how difficult it can be to obtain planning permission. In 2009, we were involved in the purchase of a run down Holiday Park in Mullion, Cornwall, which we planned to modernise by replacing the old units with insulated properties that could be used all year round. The units would be built from local materials to ensure that they would nestle into the valley. They would significantly lengthen the tourism season for Mullion and make it economically viable for local businesses to open all year. This would have a positive impact on the local economy. Overall we planned to spend £4.5million on the development over an eighteen month period. All of this capital would have gone straight back into the local economy through construction and local suppliers. Once the park was open, it would have taken in excess of £1million of revenue a year which would have equated to £700,000 in secondary spend in local shops and restaurants. This is a huge amount for the independent shops in Mullion that rely on the holiday trade, it could ensure their profitability. It would also have created eight permanent jobs in Mullion, an area with minimal employment, as well as giving contracts to local construction companies.

The Government should aim to provide employment and improve the economy. Sadly the Localism Act is not helping them do that.’

Yet despite everything we proposed and the rejuvenation that the planned Holiday Park would have brought, our plans were rejected. This was incredibly frustrating especially because what we had proposed was extremely sympathetic to the area and took the community into account. Furthermore, in rural areas tourism is the only industry area that is actually having any effect on employment so these objections are inhibiting the growth of the local economy.

This really highlights the problems with the Localism Act which is already in desperate need of revision.

The Localism Act allows anyone to appeal against planning, giving the community the right to challenge projects that they object to. Whilst this is positive in some sense, giving the people a voice and preventing unsightly developments, it also means that just about anyone can reject to planning proposals without having a genuine reason. According to a member of the Cornwall council an overwhelming majority of applications are initially objected to. Certain bodies make blanket objections regardless of the nature of the proposals. Councils are faced with an endless tide of objections; this can significantly drag out the planning process. This means that in order to obtain planning permission you have to take your case to court. Not only does this incur huge legal costs on both sides as councils are duty-bound to defend everything, the planning delays are costing the economy £3bn a year and haemorrhaging resources.

Of course, the planning process does need to have a degree of rigour but it needs to be much shorter for smaller companies to benefit. Smaller companies cannot indefinitely continue to fight against these planning delays. They simply do not have the capital to do so.

At Maya, we spent £1.4m on acquiring the land at Mullion in 2009; three years later we finally have been granted permission to start building. It can be financially crippling to sit on a plot of land  for so long when what it needs is a commercially viable project on it. This deters small businesses from attempting such projects to the detriment of the local and national economy. There is a real need to get the process more efficient. There are too many wasted opportunities as people who look to development for the right reasons find themselves tied into a process that can go on for months or years. If the laws were more streamlined projects could go ahead much more quickly, injecting money back into the economy.

Some ministers are starting to recognise the futility of the Localism Act. MPs have been putting increasing pressure on ministers to rewrite the changes to the planning rules. The Localism Act often appeals to bodies of people to whom employment and local economic activity are not a priority. While it is good that there is a counter to those running local businesses that would benefit from the income from tourism, the resource gap between those with time on their hands and struggling small businesses does not result in true balance. What England needs is a simplified planning system to boost growth and encourage sustainable development.

The Government should aim to fulfil its key objectives of improving the economy and providing employment. Sadly the Localism Act is not helping them do this. We can only hope that the legislation is rewritten sooner rather than later.

Victoria Brannen is CEO of Maya Asset Management

May 9, 2012

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