Planning “super-squad” needed beyond city Investment Zones

Government proposals to invest £13.5 million in a “super-squad” team of planners needs to be extended to include minerals planning, according to the Mineral Products Association (MPA).

Announced this week by Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the ‘super-squad’ is tasked with unblocking planning delays for key city development projects, starting with a scheme in Cambridge before moving to Investment Zones in other cities.

While not opposed to the idea, the MPA says the need for such investment underlines the frailty of an over-stretched planning system – a situation that’s even more acute when it comes to planning for minerals like sand and gravel that are essential for all built development.

Through the MPA, producers of building materials have advocated the need for regional planning hubs to help build capability and expertise to support the delivery of mineral local plans. That was one of 18 recommendations set out by the MPA in its report Smart Regulation in the Mineral Products Sector, published in April 2023.

Mark Russell, MPA Executive Director for Environment and Mineral Planning, said: “We have been calling for more investment in capacity for the planning system for years, so this latest Government announcement is welcome. However, fixing one specific planning blockage doesn’t resolve some of the fundamental and long-standing weaknesses in the system as a whole.

“The mineral planning system, which enables our industry to supply the essential aggregates, asphalt, cement and concrete needed for these plans, is in serious need of more capacity and skills. Supply cannot just be assumed; it needs to be planned for and managed to help deliver the homes, offices and, in the case of Cambridge, laboratories that the Government has rightly identified a need for in the most cost-effective and sustainable way.”

Jon Prichard, MPA Chief Executive said: “There has been a shortage of housing since the second world war, with numerous short-term attempts to address it having had varying success. So, whilst we are encouraged by the Government’s announcement to try and address some of the immediate needs, we would very much welcome wider cross-party support that will deliver generational improvement.

“This must tackle not just housing, but the long-term provision of the essential materials that enable the construction and maintenance of infrastructure, schools, hospitals, roads, rail and all other built development that ensures society’s basic needs are met.”

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