A new approach engagement with local plans is required for businesses to shift some of the limelight onto the needs of industry and the role of employment land

The British Chamber of Commerce’s Planning for Business report understandably advocates for the often-overlooked needs of business within the planning process. It does this by pushing for something close to equal priority to housing in the planning debate at national and local level.

Whilst housing has and will continue to dominate the debate, the report makes some useful recommendations on how employment developments and business can beneficially influence the planning process.

Ideas around clearer targets for employment land and employment-generating development (set at national and city region level) certainly have merit. However, experience suggests that borrowing the requirement for the maintenance of a five-year supply from the housing sector is likely to create more heat than light.

Employment and the needs of business are significantly more complex than for housing, with employment land covering cheap creative space and workshops to R&D campuses and logistics parks and everything in between. Each location has different potential for different sectors, whilst innovation and competition create a continually shifting context. This being said, planning for employment would certainly benefit from clearer targets and a greater understanding of the land use choices they throw up. Perhaps the local industrial strategies proposed in the recent industrial strategy white paper will provide a vehicle for a comprehensive overview of business needs in planning.

The BCC also raised the thorny issue of the green belt and the need for ‘a relaxation’. Many of their housebuilding colleagues would no doubt agree, but the green belt remains political dynamite at all levels. However, discussion over the purpose of green belts within the context of the pressing need for sustainable development, increased productivity and significantly improved access to quality jobs is certainly overdue. Aligned to a more coherent approach to infrastructure planning advocated by the BCC, this should open up opportunity to deliver new strategic employment and logistic locations around our metropolitan areas.

The BCC rightly points to the need for additional resources and expertise within planning authorities to speed up the planning process. However, it also needs to be considered how the business and employment land agenda is fed into the planning process. Housebuilders and their representative bodies have a great track record in influencing planning policy, both at national and local level; presenting a coherent case on the need for new housing and influencing the all-important local development plan.

The debate around employment land in local plans is often much more piecemeal, with no serious challenges to overall strategy and each development decision being made on a site-by-site basis rather than at the strategic and sector level.

As a result, a new approach engagement with local plans is required for businesses to shift some of the limelight onto the needs of industry and the role of employment land. However, it is also important that the BCC recommendations aren’t pigeonholed as ‘business versus housing’ – both needs are equally legitimate in planning sustainable communities and a more successful economy.