The Planning White Paper has been broadly well received, with its drive to bring more delivery and efficiency to the planning system. One key aspect of the planning system, brought to the fore with the impacts of Covid, is its role in economic development.
Planning can foster or hinder new employment generating development, whether for existing employers or speculative development. The White Paper talks of ‘Growth’ and empowering Planning Authorities to plan for growth of jobs and homes.
The White Paper and the existing National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) broadly treat all economic development and all jobs equally. But is that right?
The Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) sector is a nationally and globally important sector. It can generate huge and beneficial impacts to the economy, life, climate change and health, and yet this is not directly recognised in the planning system.
It is appropriate for the Government to identify those employment sectors that are most important to the national economy and wellbeing. One benefit is that the planning system can give them increased weight to support their delivery.
There will be examples in local areas of key employers or sectors for the local economy and workforce – but these can be readily supported at the local level. It is the nationally important employment sectors that should have the weight of national policy to help deliver local decisions to support their delivery.
Changes to the planning system arising through the White Paper could add such direction, but an easier and quicker fix would be to add to the NPPF. It is surprising that a new NPPF has not yet materialised this year to give greater weight to economically beneficial development.
Such an NPPF could give a boost to deliver STI development with just one well-crafted sentence. Just one sentence could see tangible and beneficial impacts to the delivery of high-value jobs, spearheading innovation, supporting knowledge clusters and attracting high-quality companies with a track-record in sustainable and environmentally forward-thinking development.