Chancellor Gordon Brown announced a raft of measures aimed at boosting the UK IT industry in his pre-budget speech yesterday. These included a review of local authority planning application systems to facilitate the setting up of business hubs. Brown envisaged a cluster of 'Silicon-Valley style' business parks across the country.
A study to examine the current planning laws will be undertaken in a joint venture between the Department of the Environment (DfEE) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). No details of when the study will be complete, or the recommendations it will make were available from either departments.
But Ian Grundy, principle planning officer for Ashford District Council does not see how current laws can be improved.
"We have a number of sites identified for development in this area and we are well able to cater for the demand," he said. The average time for permission to be given for planning is 8 weeks according to Grundy, although he admits bigger applications take longer.
Peter Mandelson, Trade and Industry Secretary hopes the regional development agencies due to start up in April next year will encourage IT firms in their areas -- but environmental groups are less enthusiastic. Tony Burton, assistant director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England rejects the idea that planning application red-tape is getting in the way of development. "The planning system is about securing the needs of the environment," he said, adding that new developments would encourage urban sprawl and increase traffic.
Other measure announced in the speech included possible tax boosts for small businesses undertaking research and development. Brown is keen for UK inventions to match those in the US and the government will consult small businesses about supplementing tax relief for R&D with tax credits.