Reform LDO process to kickstart investment zones, says expert

Out-Law News | 23 Sep 2022 | 10:18 am | 1 min. read

The UK government could reform the local development orders (LDOs) process as a first step towards accelerating development across the UK, a planning law expert has said.

Robbie Owen of Pinsent Masons was commenting after UK chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng outlined plans to establish investment zones across the UK. In addition to applying tax incentives for businesses within these zones, Kwarteng intends for them to serve as “designated development sites” within which planning processes would be streamlined to support the construction of new housing and other infrastructure.

According to the Treasury (42-page / 1.38MB PDF), the government has already held discussions with 38 authorities in England about the possibility of investment zones being established in their areas. It said investment zones in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also planned and that the government would work with the devolved administrations to achieve them. It said it would legislate to create tax and development sites in investment zones where powers are reserved to Westminster.

Investment zones will be chosen following “a rapid expression of interest process open to everyone, and after local consent is confirmed”, it said.

Robbie Owen said: “If investment zones are to successfully kickstart economic growth across the country they need to be established quickly and without a convoluted bidding process. Relaxing or liberalised planning laws applied to the zones would work in principle, but the detail will be crucial and fast progress will be needed, unlike what we’ve seen with freeports where there has been no change despite promises.”

“Mechanisms already exist which allow planning for local infrastructure and development projects to be expedited, but at the moment these local development orders are purely at the gift of the planning authority. Local authority resourcing pressures can create backlogs and bottlenecks. Government could reform and modernise the LDO process, making it quicker, more responsive and widening its scope. This would be an effective first step in getting these important local levelling-up projects consented and delivered,” he said.

Owen previously set out how the LDO process could be simplified to facilitate their greater use.

He said people other than local planning authorities should be able to bring LDOs forward, with appropriate hearing procedures, that LDOs should be allowed to be made across more than one local planning authority area, and that statutory timescales for decisions on LDOs and appropriate local authority resourcing should be imposed. He also said that there should be an easier way to change LDOs than is currently the case.