I feel sure I can claim the support of everyone if I write that the planning system should promote prosperity. I am certain those operating the system work diligently within the rules with that noble intent in mind.
However, over the past few years, I have seen a number of instances where business owners have had what I considered their legitimate and beneficial commercial interests impeded or completely stymied by planning decisions. Reasons have always been given but in every case, I have felt the system had produced damaging outcomes.
The first case to reach me in this Parliament was that of Mr Ian Hannah, whose family owns the leasehold on an industrial unit at Cressex Industrial Park. Mr Hannah has kindly agreed to let me highlight his case in the hope that we can change the system for the better.
In a nutshell, after a long delay, his commercial property in Cressex now stands empty but attracting expensive business rates when it could have contained a growing new business. This is not acceptable.
Mr Hannah was approached by a light manufacturing company who wanted to rent the site, bringing an initial 12 jobs to Wycombe, with scope for future expansion. It had previously been used as a warehouse so Mr Hannah required a change of use permit from the Council.
Mr Hannah reports the key points are as follows:
- A simple change of use from storage to manufacturing for an industrial warehouse in Cressex, our key industrial zone, took over 4 months to process and resulted in such ambiguous, punitive and incorrectly applied noise conditions it has become unusable.
- The delays and lack of clarity on acceptable noise levels, despite the landlord investing in further in-depth noise reports showing there would be no impact on adjacent residential dwellings, directly resulted in the loss of the prospective tenant. He was seeking to bring 12 new manufacturing jobs to the area. The unit remains empty with no prospect of future rental.
- Requests to the Council (who holds the site freehold) to consider lease terms for redevelopment of the aged site remained unanswered for over 80 days.
I visited the site with Wycombe District Council Leader, Katrina Wood, to hear first-hand how the land use planning system has prevented the creation and expansion of jobs in Wycombe and to see the site for myself.
Here is what I learned:
Wycombe’s motto is “Industria ditat” – industry enriches. I think that is exactly right: productive work in the service of other people is a crucial part of a flourishing life and a prosperous society. Sadly, in this case, the system has positively prevented that industry. I regret that it is not the first incident of this kind I have seen.
People might reasonably ask why I am raising this case in public. It is because I would like to hear opinions from members of the public and business owners about this situation and their own experiences. It is time to identify practical solutions to improve the system.
I am asking business people, members of the public working for firms with similar experiences and planning experts to contact me with their relevant experiences and constructive proposals. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.