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City set to axe planning restrictions in bid for jobs and growth drive

City set to axe planning restrictions in bid for jobs and growth drive

🕔30.Jan 2012

The precise location of Birmingham’s Enterprise Zones has become clearer following the publication of detailed maps showing where new businesses will be able to set up without having to obtain planning permission.

City council planners are applying for fast-track Local Development Orders (LDOs) to much of Digbeth and the whole of Birmingham Science Park Aston.

The LDOs cut across normal regulations by allowing entrepreneurs, start-up companies and established firms to change the use of buildings without having to go through the time-consuming and costly process of applying for planning approval.

The council says its aim is to create hundreds of jobs by encouraging the growth of financial services, creative, digital media and ICT businesses in Digbeth and at the science park.

The Digbeth DLO is likely to prove especially useful because it will override development restrictions in two Conservation Areas, where it has proved difficult to obtain approval for industrial development without embarking on an extensive consultation process.

It is expected that Tax Incremental Funding schemes will be established in the Enterprise Zones, enabling the council to borrow money for economic development against income streams from business rates generated by new businesses moving into the area.

The Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership has Government approval to designate anywhere in the city centre an Enterprise Zone.  Areas earmarked include Eastside, Paradise Circus and New Street Station as well as Digbeth and Birmingham Science Park Aston.

The LEP estimates that more than 20 city centre locations could qualify for Enterprise Zone status and that the scheme may create 50,000 new jobs.

Birmingham Chamber of Commerce has estimated business rates paid by firms moving into the zones could amount to £70 million over 20 years, enabling the city council to borrow £700 million for new infrastructure projects.

Digbeth is identified in the council’s Big City plan as an area for growing creative businesses, developing a vibrant urban community and forming part of a proposed Digital District delivering ultra-fast broadband to businesses.

A triangular-shaped area has been identified for an LDO, to include all of the land bounded by High Street Deritend, the main Birmingham-Coventry railway and the outer ring road from Lawley Middleway to Bordesley Circus. The northern tip of the LDO will overlook the planned HS2 high speed rail terminal.

If approved by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, the LDO will take in scores of disused former industrial buildings, vacant shops and old warehouses capable of being turned into premises for new businesses.

But the council has stopped short of permitting the LDOs to cover listed buildings or new development. Only change of use applications for existing premises will be exempted from the requirement to obtain planning permission.

City planning officer Louise Robinson said the main aims were to reduce some of the burdens on businesses by removing the need to obtain planning permission and “providing certainty up front as to what development is acceptable”.

Ms Robinson pointed out that Birmingham’s changing economic fortunes over the years had left Digbeth with many vacant but architecturally robust buildings.

She added: “The aim is to streamline the system for businesses to locate and expand in the area, creating conditions for investor confidence by enabling the reuse and conversion of buildings.

“In particular the aim is to encourage, through the LDO and other measures, the financial services, digital, media, creative industries and ICT sectors to expand.”

The council regards Birmingham Science Park Aston as a key component in driving the city’s knowledge economy, acting as a hub to promote enterprise and innovation. Ms Robinson said the aim was to streamline the planning system by enabling businesses to locate and expand.

It’s proposed that the LDOs extend existing permitted development rights for a wide variety of change of use applications. Businesses would be able to switch the use of buildings between shops, financial and professional services, restaurants, offices, light industry, storage and distribution, assembly and leisure.

However, the LDOs will only cover applications with a maximum floorspace of 999 square metres.

The LDOs are expected to come into operation in April and will last for three years.

The easing of planning restrictions is one of several Government initiatives announced for Enterprise Zones. Other changes include:

  • A 100 per cent business rate discount worth up to £275,000 over a five year period, for businesses that move into an Enterprise Zone during the course of this Parliament.
  • All business rates growth within the zone for a period of at least 25 years will be retained and shared by the local authorities in the LEP area to support their economic priorities.
  • Government support to ensure superfast broadband is rolled out. This will be achieved through guaranteeing the most supportive environment and, if necessary, public funding.

Birmingham Planning Committee launched a public consultation exercise into the LDO proposals.

Chairman, Coun Peter Douglas Osborn, said: “This will put Birmingham at the forefront nationally of the development of Enterprise Zones. We will be one of the first councils in the country to set up Local Developmen t Orders.”

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