In a report titled 'No Stone Unturned', Heseltine says that planning decisions "are still too often lengthy and bureaucratic” and calls for the government to “inject urgency and purpose into the planning system".
He also says: "There is simply no urgency or any understanding of the economic cost of delays. The appeals system adds more time to the process. Nowhere else can the pedestrian speed of decision-making in this country, and its effects, be more damaging than in planning."
The report recommends that the National Planning Inspectorate [PINS] should be able to call in applications that have not been determined after six months without good reason to ensure that decisions are reached with optimum speed.
The study suggests that for any application still undecided after three months, the planning authority should publish a "clear and unbiased statement" of what the issues are in order to help all parties to understand what is standing in the way of a decision.
In a scathing assessment of the planning process he maintains that the "most likely effect of these proposals is that faced with the possible intervention of the inspectorate, local planners will simply do the job they are paid to do more quickly".
Meanwhile at the national level, he suggests that the government should show greater leadership in promoting major infrastructure projects saying, "Central government must retain control of important, large scale infrastructure projects. This includes our motorway network, national rail network and airports, as well as our energy networks,"
In additon to suggestions for planning, he makes 89 recommendations to help industry. One of the most important being to move £49bn from central government to the regions via Local Enterprise Partnerships [LEPs] to devolve power from Whitehall. This would re-invigorate the "big cities" that fuelled growth and wealth in the past; cities that were "pulsing with energy" should be unleashed. He cited Birmingham, Newcastle and Manchester as examples but not smaller cities like Brighton & Hove.
But while Lord Heseltine believes LEPs could be key to stimulating regional growth, he does not believe that they currently have "the authority or resource to transform their locality in the way our economy needs".
No Stone Unturned
ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP COMMENT
Some of Lord Heseltine’s 89 recommendations are rather obvious and some of them outdated. For instance, generations of politicians have pledged to improve school performance and while you may or may not agree with him, current Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove is hardly a slacker.
Heseltine also rather belatedly warns against the dangers of allowing foreign takeovers of British companies but the bald truth is that we would have fewer “British” companies still operating if they had not been taken over. Britain’s Land Rover is a quintessential success story delivered by Tata of India.
Being one of the few politicians in Whitehall who never considered “regional” to be a dirty word after the demise of the regional development agencies [RDAs], one of Lord Heseltine’s roles is to focus on regional economic growth so it is no surprise that he wants more support for LEPs which were hampered by an almost total lack of financial support at their creation. There are signs that this is changing now; not enough to make them as powerful as the RDAs which had hundreds of millions of pounds at their disposal but at least with enough money to pay for an office and staff although some LEPs still have to demonstrate what they are going to do with them.
The chancellor has publicly backed Heseltine saying his report was full of "fantastic stuff" and denying speculation that it will end up in the long grass, promising to implement a "huge amount" of the recommendations. Watch this space.
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