Business leader claims planning restrictions are hampering growth

    The site in Chapman Way

    THE head of Kent’s largest business network has called for planning to be simplified as the current system is creating ‘barriers’ to job creation.

    The comments, by Jo James, Chief Executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, come after proposals to convert a disused industrial unit on Chapman Way into a go-karting track and laser tag centre were rejected by7 the borough council. The £3.5million project was expected to create 25 full time and part time jobs.

    But members of the council’s planning committee took the decision on March 8, on the recommendation of planning officers, to turn down the application partly on the grounds of the applicant’s refusal to pay £52,000 in Section 106 ‘developer contributions’.

    However, Mrs James, whose organisation represents 1,200 members, criticised the way in which these Section 106 agreements, could hamper economic growth.

    She added: “Often these, and other planning conditions, hinder rather than help development. They slow down decisions and put another financial burden on development, which can undermine the business case for it going ahead.”

    “We recognise that developers need to contribute to the delivery of infrastructure, but all too often planning creates barriers that stop the growth of new businesses and creation of new jobs. There has to be a simpler and better way.”

    Applicant Markerstudy Leisure refused to pay the contribution to Kent Highways on the grounds of what it believed to be previous precedents involving similar schemes nearby having their contributions waivered.

    In addition the application was turned down as the type of jobs to be created were in leisure and not light industry. Planning officers also said there had been a failure to explore if the new facility could be located elsewhere in the town or if there was still demand for use of the premises as an industrial unit.

    The company has now said it will pull all further funding for planned projects in the town, predicted to be worth £10million, and reallocate the resources elsewhere in the South East.

    Former Council Leader and one time member of the planning committee Roy Bullock, said members of the committee could have overturned the officer’s recommendation and approved the proposal ‘in the overall interests’ of the town.

    He said: “The members of the committee do have the individual and collective right not to follow officers’ recommendation and could have recommended approval in the overall interests of the town as it brings significant economic development to the area.”

    However, a spokesman for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council defended the decision to reject the proposal, despite admitting it would, ‘increase the leisure provision within Tunbridge Wells and would bring in additional visitors which will have wider economic benefits.’

    But added: “The highway network in the area is heavily congested, particularly at peak times during the week and at weekends. The advice from KCC Highways and Transportation is that the proposed development would generate a significant amount of additional traffic that would coincide with the existing peaks.

    “In order to mitigate the impact of this additional traffic, KCC Highways and Transportation required a Section 106 contribution of £52,000 for the review and implementation of future phases of the ‘Masterplan for highways improvements for the North Farm area’. The applicant did not agree to this, and accordingly the application was recommended for refusal on this ground.”

    The Times newspaper is part of the Markerstudy group.