BUSINESS leaders in Coventry and Warwickshire have brought to government ministers’ attention what they say is our region’s ‘acute employment land shortage’.
The Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce is raising the issue of a ‘lack of sites being set aside for new employment’ in councils’ Local Plans and the ‘damage that will have on future growth’.
As well as writing to and discussing the matter with local MPs, the Chamber has written to housing minister Gavin Barwell to seek his intervention, along with Chancellor Philip Hammond and the business secretary Greg Clark.
It is unclear what the government could do to intervene directly, having since 2010 insisted that local councils must make their own decisions on development, under the Conservatives’ localism agenda which Mr Clark has been at the forefront of.
Government-appointed independent inspectors have been brought in to assess Local Plans and intervene on proposed housing targets, and public inquiries have examined local decisions over proposed use of sites for employment, notably on the greenbelt.
The Chamber says the housing targets in Local Plans for councils across the area are roughly correct but the shortage of space set aside for commercial property will lead to unemployment.
In a reply letter, Mr Barwell wrote: “I am pleased to hear that the Chamber of Commerce is actively engaged and influencing the preparation of the Local Plan in the sub-region, supporting planning that can bring sustainable growth to the area.
“Local Plans are required to be supported by robust evidence that can justify plan proposals. The policies and proposals set out within a Plan, including scale of growth, will be tested at examination.
“I can, therefore, reassure you that any representations made by the Chamber to a published Local Plan will be considered by the Inspector as part of the examination process.
“The Neighbourhood Planning Bill currently progressing through Parliament is seeking to bring forward greater flexibility in plan-making. My officials will be willing to discuss this further with the authorities concerned and have already met with the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership and wish to maintain constructive dialogue with them. I would encourage the Chamber of Commerce to actively engage in this work.”
Louise Bennett, chief executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is a matter of huge importance for the region and that is why we are taking such a strong stance.
“We are grateful to the minister for writing back and, while we appreciate he cannot go into detail, we believe his comments suggest that the authorities can set aside more employment land because there is evidence to show it is required.
“We are hearing from businesses across Coventry and Warwickshire that they want to expand but can’t find the space and we know that if a major inward investor came calling we would struggle to find suitable land set aside to house them.”