DELAYS to the planning process are holding back growth in the small business sector, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
It said research shows an ongoing failure in the planning system which is preventing small firms from expanding, despite Government pledges to improve the situation.
The latest FSB Voice of Small Business survey showed that almost seven in 10 small businesses have to wait more than the maximum eight weeks allowed by the Government for local authorities to decide on most planning applications.
The FSB said that the complexity of the applications was not to blame for the timescales, as a third of them were simply requesting a change of use of existing business premises, and a quarter were requests to change signs or to start minor improvements.
Fewer than a third were actually plans for substantial new work.
The FSB said the survey results show that the planning system is continuing to fail businesses, despite repeated promises by successive Government ministers to make it fairer and faster.
John Walker, the FSB’s national chairman, said: “It is ridiculous that small firms are still being held back by the costly and complex planning system.
“Most small firms only want to make minor changes to their business that would enable them to expand and diversify, stimulating much-needed growth in the economy.
“Small businesses are already over-burdened, especially in these difficult times.
“Providing a fast-track for small business planning applications would make the process cheaper and easier, and would provide the incentive they need to grow their business.”
The latest update of FSB members’ views showed that 13% had either applied or were in the process of applying for planning permission as part of efforts to improve their business’s performance.
The most popular type of planning application made by small firms was for a change of use, an extension or a new building.
Around seven in 10 of those surveyed thought they should be able to make a ‘change of use’ without having to apply for planning permission to do so.
About half of those making applications thought the whole process was protracted and governed by overly-complex rules and processes.
And of those who received final notification about their plans, nearly 70% waited more than eight weeks.