As a business with nationwide coverage, Dawsongroup needs to secure property and sites local to our customers. The process of developing potential sites can be challenging – we too experience red tape and delays, so are keen to champion conversation around the issues that are holding businesses like us back.
Freya Dawson, Property Director for Dawsongroup, has been exploring the impact of an unsupportive local policy and difficult change-of-use policies in her article for Property Week.
“Despite the structural changes in business, planning at a local level has remained largely rooted in the past and its inherent inflexibility is holding commerce back.
Surely what the UK government needs and expects is a thriving private sector delivering more enterprise, tax and employment, but the memo seems to have been lost on its way to regional and local planning authorities.
One of the ways we can help businesses use assets in a smart and agile way – which affords them flexibility while protecting their capital – is to acquire new sites that give us the space we need to build a local infrastructure and store assets we hire out to businesses. Easier said than done in 2023.
Dawsongroup has identified a site close to the M58 in Lancashire that is a perfect place for us to expand and develop. We would love to invest in this site and transform what is an unused piece of land into something that will provide skilled employment opportunities and provide demand for local suppliers.
This vision of transforming a greenfield site is very much in line with the government’s levelling-up programme, which seeks to spread opportunity more equally across the UK. It’s also part of the wider government plan to encourage growth and investment.
Based on all of this, we had hoped to find the process of proposing a minor change to the local policy – which currently has ‘office-only’ classification – to be relatively straightforward, allowing the site to be used also for the storage and sales of commercial vehicles. Unfortunately, it is not straightforward at all.
The site has Class E-designated planning (formally B1), which would allow offices to be built on the land. It is also deemed a Strategic Employment Site and, therefore, identified as an area that can bring employment opportunities to the area.
Application for change
We are in the process of applying for a change to the local policy to allow the site to be used under Class B8 and relevant sui generis use so that we can store the Dawsongroup assets that are waiting to go out on rent or sold to customers.
Unfortunately, as we have discovered submitting this type of application, local council policy frequently doesn’t follow the government’s vision. Across the UK, the system is out of step with the fast-paced world we live in and is full of red tape and delays for anyone wanting to apply for a change of use.
Our experience is that there is a reluctance by councils to agree to a change in planning status.
The government is clear that the UK needs investment to create jobs and build new infrastructure to help the economy grow. However, planning legislation and local policy do not support this.
The legislation covering planning applications provides guidance as to the kinds of things local councils need to consider. But there are no definitive criteria. Decisions are based on the planning policies of each individual council. These can be, and often are, out of step with national government policy.
The answer lies in councils embracing change-of-use applications and recognising the potential to bring investment and jobs to their areas. When assessing applications, they need to give more consideration to the government’s policies, and work more efficiently so that those who want to invest in an area can do so.
Overhauling the planning processes and making it quicker and easier to apply – while still allowing councils to properly scrutinise applications – would allow companies that want to invest to do so, safe in the knowledge that they aren’t taking a huge gamble and leap of faith by buying land when a change of use is needed.
Investment and regeneration of sites and buildings that have the potential to become vibrant, profitable businesses are key to economic recovery. The planning departments of local councils have a vital role to play in that, and now is the time for them to rise to the challenge and get behind applications for a change of use that will revitalise local economies.”
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