In 1979 Slough Estates carried out some research in the average length of time it took to secure planning permission for a 50,000 square foot factory with a workforce of 150. In Belgium it was six weeks, in the United States five weeks, in Canada four weeks – while in Britain it was eight months. It would be interesting to see how the figures compare now but I suspect that we would still be uncompetitive. The former Conservative MP David Heathcoat-Amory has written about a delay of six months – on spurious planning grounds – for an industrial development he was involved in and reflected that in the far east the experience is quite different.
It's not even as if the delay seem to provide any advantages. Are the factories, office blocks and blocks of flats we build of greater aesthetic merit than the ones in Canada? Far better to allow rapid approval in return for using traditional materials with an attractive neo-classical design.
In ecological terms a more flexible approach could also provides benefits – for instance allowing development on one piece of land in return for greening surrounding bits of scuzzy wasteland. That would allow new homes and jobs as well as a net gain for fauna and flora.
What prospect is there that the streamlined planning process will reduce the sharp delays.
When I recently interviewed Eric Pickles he said:
"Clearly we have got to balance economic need, environmental need and social need. The whole process of the planning policy was to ensure that when applications came in they would be dealt with steadily. That process has been in place a few months. There has been an indication that there has been an increase in planing applications. I can't make a serious judgement but the prognosis should be reasonably good.
"Inexperinced officers are making decisions where things are held back over unreasonably . I want the glow worm to glow the horn frog to happily hop but these things have to be balanced. We have tried to liberate planners for the need for forms and the level of details. But you will still find some jobsworth in a local authority yearns for forms and will send the forms out nevertheless.