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Comment by law firm EMW on planning reforms: Access to finance is the problem, not the planning system 7th September 2012

Giles Ferin, Planning Principal at EMW said: “On the surface this might be seen as a developer’s charter, but access to finance on acceptable terms, not the planning system itself, remains the major obstacle in the way of development.”

"Cutting through bureaucracy is all well and good, but confidence in the economy is the real barrier both for developers and their customers and that will not be restored over-night.

Without a blue chip tenant already signed up to occupy enlarged commercial property, developers will find it near on impossible to secure sensible finance terms, in order to take advantage of these temporary concessions.

The Government has ignored the main issue facing developers.

Purchasers simply can’t commit themselves to development whilst confidence in the economy remains in such a fragile state.

The fast track system reduces the opportunity for effective involvement of local businesses and residents.

Under these proposals, thousands of big commercial and residential applications could be directed to a major infrastructure fast track procedure with the potential in some circumstances for decisions to be taken by the Planning Inspectorate rather than by the LPA.

This would strip power away from local authorities, at odds with the Government’s own agenda of devolving decision making wherever possible to the local community.

Decisions affecting the local area could be made by the Planning Inspectorate based miles away, making planning decisions less accountable to residents and local businesses and the planning system less likely to engage the local community as the Government wants.

Extensions to commercial premises may still run into issues when expanding in mixed use residential areas.

Landlords will welcome any relaxation of the rules on expanding their usable space – and it could deliver a windfall to property investors. However, by expanding commercial uses into upper floor areas, which in many cases currently provide residential accommodation, existing policies to protect such residential uses in town centre locations in order to maintain vitality and activity after business hours, would be overturned. Whether such a loss of vitality could ultimately impact adversely upon the future of the High Street remains to be seen.

The changes could be a step in the right direction, but developers will feel that they still leave many issues, such as this one, unresolved.”

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