Measures outlined in the coalition Government's first budget focused heavily on sustainable development in the built environment, but landscape bosses have expressed scepticism over any positive implications for the industry.
Proposals set out in the Plan for Growth, published alongside the central budget document, included a presumption in favour of sustainable development and a raft of measures intended to simplify and speed up planning applications and decisions. The changes will be incorporated in the National Planning Policy Framework, expected to be published by April 2012.
Measures included: plans to fast track major infrastructure projects and process all planning applications and appeals within 12 months; powers allowing businesses to bring forward neighbourhood plans and development orders; the localisation of decisions about the use of previously-developed land and; a pilot scheme allowing local authorities to auction off publicly-owned sites with planning permission to free up land for development.
Farrer Huxley Associates director Noel Farrer said a simpler planning process would not necessarily benefit landscape businesses. "It may mean some short-term work for landscape practices to help get things through planning, but it may be that they won't even be asked to help with developments because they aren't needed."
He added that the new measures could lead to lower standards of landscaping. "It's all very well to simplify the planning laws, but long-term sustainable growth is entirely related to quality.
"Just because they have created what seems like financial opportunities for developers doesn't necessarily mean we will get better landscapes. The reality of it is that despite our beautiful drawings many projects are still full of tarmac and kerbs."
Landscape Group chief executive Nick Temple-Heald said the growth strategy would inevitably create opportunities for developers, but it would be a long time before the landscape sector reaped any rewards.
Tax incentives for small businesses and a one-penny-per-litre cut in fuel prices were among other key measures revealed in Chancellor George Osbourne's budget.
Landform Consultants director Mark Gregory criticised the decision on fuel, saying the saving was too small to benefit landscapers.
- A 12-month fast-track process for all planning applications and appeals.
- Localised choice about the use of previously-developed land.
- Pilot scheme to auction public sector land with prior planning permission.
- Scrapping the target for 60 per cent of new homes to be built on brownfield sites.
- Retention of existing controls on green belt land.
- 11 enterprise zones in England with simplified planning rules. Local areas to bid for a further 10.
- Consultations on proposals to make it easier to convert commercial premises to residential.