Business Leaders Demand Optimism; Chamber Calls for Planning Attitude Change

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Byline: By Paul James Chief Reporter

BUSINESS leaders last night demanded a change in attitude from North-East planning officials who they claim are holding back new developments in the region.

The call for change from the North-East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) came as the organisation published its manifesto for the coming year, which includes a pledge to monitor councils to make sure they are "enabling" development.

Chamber bosses said negativity from town halls is creating unnecessary obstacles for job creation, which could be bypassed by more enthusiasm for new projects from the planning system.

Their document claims companies are increasingly coming forward with plans in the North-East but are facing unnecessary and unhelpful barriers. Council chiefs last night said their staff had a duty to protect the environment. Planners' representatives said it was vital that local people were able to object and influence decisions.

The chamber's anger is also directed at the 2007 version of the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), which Ross Smith, the chamber's head of policy and research said was a safety-first planning attitude.

He said the RSS watered down the commitment to improving the Tyne and Wear Metro system and made it harder to develop schemes like the hi-tech Netpark at Sedgefield in County Durham.

The Government's Planning White paper, if approved, has been put forward to speed up approval of major infrastructure projects like the new Tyne Tunnel. Mr Smith said discussions with planners at North-East councils was a constant source of complaint from chamber members. …