Lack of resources in town hall planning departments stifling economic development and investment in Yorkshire, warns chamber of commerce president

A lack of resources and enthusiasm in council planning departments is holding back economic development in parts of Yorkshire and putting off potential investors, a leading business figure warned last night.

By Rob Parsons
Friday, 5th April 2019, 12:15 pm
Updated Friday, 5th April 2019, 12:19 pm
A scene from York city centre. Pic: James Hardisty
A scene from York city centre. Pic: James Hardisty

Bridget Meynell, the President of the York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said town halls needed to “pull out all the stops” to ensure the areas are “firmly in the sight of those companies wishing to invest here”.

The Managing Director of Minster FM told the Chamber’s annual dinner at the National Railway Museum in York that there was “indisputably a planning resource issue here in York and other areas of North Yorkshire”.

Mrs Meynell said: “Fast-track systems need to be put in place now along with a robust training and apprenticeship program to inject a burst of energy, enthusiasm and resource into our planning offices to further open the doors to economic development and the York and North Yorkshire economy.”

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Stressing the importance of inward investment, she added: “There is a responsibility to ensure that visiting officials see the true benefits of investing in this great city and county.”

It is not the first time warnings have been issued about York’s approach to development in the city. In 2011, The Yorkshire Post reported that senior executives from some of York’s biggest employers warned stringent planning regulations which have been put in place to protect York’s world-famous heritage are actually stifling long-term growth and competitiveness.

In her speech, Mrs Meynell cited the many reasons to be optimistic about York and North Yorkshire, including the plans for the landmark York Central development and BBC Countryfile Live coming to Castle Howard in August.

She also urged political leaders in the region to put aside their ambitions for a One Yorkshire devolution deal and pursue a “pragmatic” approach of smaller city arrangements.

The Government said last year that a transfer of powers and funding to a Yorkshire-wide mayoral authority from Whitehall did not fit its criteria for devolution, but that it was willing to consider ‘city region’ deals in Leeds or York.

Mrs Meynell said: “It is now clear that One Yorkshire is not going to happen, at least not for the time being. Despite our frustration, we feel that some clarity relating to devolution has now been brought to the debate.

“Both [Ministers] James Brokenshire and Jake Berry have stated that they would look favourably on devolution proposals based on smaller geographies, such as city regions.

“We feel that it is now time to be pragmatic and set aside ambitions for One Yorkshire and seek to develop solutions which are more likely to be approved.

“One Yorkshire could well be an end-game we could support in the future but at the moment we must see progress at a city region level within the next twelve months.”

She also described the difficulty to recruit staff, adding: “We rely on our transport network in all of its guises to enable our workforce to access the jobs we are creating.”