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Working together is more vital than ever

The pressures created by rising prices impact on every aspect of our lives so we have to think of more imaginative ways of not only coping, but actually to continue to generate sustainable growth in our local economy.

Partnership working is a key part of that process. For example, Chamber and Initiative members have played a prominent role in something called the Future Ambition Board, which was set up by the Council to bring people together to help revitalise the economy following the Covid Pandemic. Little did we all know that an energy crisis would then follow, but it is fortunate that we already have a structure in place which can respond to fresh challenges as they arise.

The demands on local authorities are enormous and you regularly hear the refrain “What is the Council doing about …. ”, pretty well any subject under the sun. But maybe a better question is to ask what can the private sector do to support hard pressed public sector services labouring under a lack of resources ?

One area where there could be scope for an innovative approach is in Planning. For some time, our members have noted a slow speed in the processing of applications and the difficulty of getting access to case officers. It’s likely the cause of both of those issues is due, at least in part, to a less than ideal amount of resource.

The impact of slow processing puts a brake on the delivery of development projects which has a negative bearing on housing supply and the creation of employment space, to the detriment of the economy as a whole. One particular problem relates to listed buildings and the extremely slow pace at which they are being retrofitted to reduce energy consumption.

Being able to talk things through face to face is an essential element in a process to reach a swift and well balanced decision. An on-site conversation between developer and planning officer can resolve issues in a way that intermittent email communications just cannot.

Our members, Daniel Lugsden and Mel Clinton from the Nash Partnership, a long established built environment practice, have been putting their minds to this problem and they’ve come up with some interesting suggestions which are well worth considering.

How about getting private companies to temporarily second experienced team members to local authorities ? In the short term that would fill a resource gap, but in the longer term would lighten the load on others, making the job less stressful, creating a more congenial workplace which in turn would attract larger numbers of recruits and so strengthen the service into the future.

Companies could explain to clients that paying more for planning applications would be in their interests if they could rely on enjoying a better service.

The number of poor quality applications could be reduced and the system speeded up if every applicant was required to present an outline to a planning officer who could weed out those which would be likely to fail.

Would it be possible to give greater weight to energy saving than the impact on heritage when it comes to retrofitting listed buildings ? Perhaps there is even scope for a new grading system of listed buildings under Grade 2 which would make it easier to install more efficient equipment ?

Maybe some controversial ideas, but hard times call for creative thinking and by working together we can find solutions which will be to the benefit of us all.


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