Comment - Hinted-at planning overhaul could be good for SMEs

Changes in planning rules that would make it easier for businesses to expand should be welcomed by SMEs, says Jason Stockwood.

It’s been a tough few months for poor Vince Cable. Yesterday must have been particularly difficult as he watched the completion of the BSkyB deal, from which he was unceremoniously removed at the end of last year.

Last night, though, Uncle Vince gave a speech at the Mansion House, in which he set out some potentially significant changes to the planning system in this country.

Mr Cable said that the government wants to flip the planning process on its head, and build a system in which the “standard answer is ‘yes’, not ‘no’.”

Broadly, the intention is for the changes to make it easier for businesses to get the planning permission they need to expand or to start new projects. The government would also be able to give special priority to certain big infrastructure developments.

George Osborne apparently intends to put the new planning process at the heart of a new package that he hopes will jolt the economy back into growth – without actually requiring any up-front government spending. The package will be presented in the Growth Review, which is due to be announced alongside the Budget.

As things currently stand, the planning process is pretty dysfunctional. The extraordinary amount of red tape through which businesses must battle is unsustainable, and there is little doubt that this is preventing expansion. Any moves that could reduce that red tape burden are to be welcomed.

Similarly, we are fully behind any proposals that could make it easier for SMEs to grow. A change to the planning system, if properly executed, would make it simpler for businesses to develop the facilities they need. At the same time this could be great news for the construction industry, which is crying out for government support.

Of course, this is also good news for the country as a whole. Government is constantly extolling the abilities of the SME community to boost growth, and repeating the fact that small businesses will be the leaders of the economic recovery. At Simply Business we have long been calling for some concrete action to back up these words, and a properly considered, efficiently executed change to the planning system would certainly be a welcome step.

One note of caution, though. It is of course necessary for the planning process to take into consideration the wishes of communities. There is some concern that the proposals could see those wishes side-tracked, in favour of the demands of businesses. A system like this would be bad for communities, and bad for business.

We would like to see a system in which businesses and residents can work together to find solutions that work for everyone. We hope that the government’s Growth Review will bring us one step closer to this reality.