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Planning system will slow economic recovery, says MPA

THE Mineral Products Association (MPA) claims that failures in the current planning system are likely to inhibit the recovery of the development and construction industry and the mineral products sector upon which it relies.

The Association argues that the ‘plan-led’ system in England is no longer fit for purpose and has failed to deliver the certainty that was promised. It says that, in the minerals sector, less than 20 of the new-style Minerals Development Plan documents have been completed out of an estimated 200-plus that will be needed to give full coverage.

Emphasizing that the recovery will only be as good as the planning system allows it to be, Simon van der Byl, executive director of the MPA, said: ‘What is needed is a system that ensures all concerns are dealt with proportionately, fairly and speedily. With so much cumulative under-build in housing and so much of our infrastructure still in need of repair or upgrading, let alone the need for new energy capacity and flood protection, something has to change and fast. 

‘A knock-on consequence,’ he added, ‘is that the annual replenishment rate for aggregates is typically only 60%, raising the prospects of localized supply shortfalls as construction activity picks up from mid-2010.’    

The MPA says the Government’s imperative to deliver new housing and to mitigate climate change means it is now absolutely vital that there are no unreasonable barriers to construction and that the planning system is responsive to meet the future demands of the economy.

The Association is also concerned about Opposition plans to abolish regional planning and introduce more ‘local’ control over development, which, it fears, will encourage ‘parochialism’ and make matters worse. Removing regional considerations, says the MPA, will simply give local authorities more freedom to turn down proposals without having to take proper account of the consequences nationally or regionally.

The Association is therefore calling for recognition of the hold-ups and the need to formulate an improvement plan. This, it says, could involve interim measures and guidance to free up the current system, with hard targets issued to planning authorities and the planning inspectorate to deliver shorter, simpler plans by an agreed target date to support the economic recovery and not inhibit it.

Speaking on behalf of the mineral products industry Nigel Jackson, chief executive of the MPA, said: ‘It is bad enough trying to keep construction buoyant in this recession. Now we are having to deal with a development plan system which, far from improving things, is proving to be a burden for everyone involved with it and acting as drag on the recovery.

‘The lack of certainty created by the current system, coupled with the cost, can act as a discouragement to developers to submit applications, particularly in the current economic environment. By the time the recovery takes hold an in-built inertia will inevitably slow things down.

‘We have given the changes [to the planning system] a chance to bed in but they are just not working. In fact, with all the legal challenges and general nervousness about the system, there is no doubt that it is getting worse.’

According to MPA research, at the end of August 2009 only 16 out of 86 mineral planning authorities in England had adopted their core strategy; one out of 86 had had their core strategy found ‘sound’, awaiting adoption; two out of 86 had submitted their core strategy, awaiting examination; and seven out of 86 had withdrawn their core strategy.


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