Under threat LEPs are playing a vital role in unifying unitary authorities, delegates heard at the latest Thames Tap  round table event.

The January 27 meeting at the offices of Haslams Estate Agent in Reading, ended with a focus on local enterprise partnerships (LEP), the current lack of funding for them and their uncertain future.

Laura Fitzgerald, director at mode Transport, appreciated the work of Thames Valley Berkshire LEP. She said: “It’s not so much businesses, it’s about bringing different council people together. Without it we are just a series of different unitary authorities with no real common plan. I think that’s something the LEP is trying to grapple with now.”

And she lamented the lack of funding for infrastructure.

She went on: “Whatever the Government made available went to the north for levelling up, so they don’t have anything now.

“But I do genuinely think there is a role for them in unifying the councils essentially. Whether that means development or promoting different agendas to the wider country, I think it’s quite important.”

Charles Bushe from DevComms was at our last round table about city status and noted the joint working in Berkshire when Cllr Pavitar Mann from Slough Borough Council supported Reading’s bid which also had support from Maidenhead MP Theresa May.

“Maybe we are seeing a slight change of perspective here and maybe that is down to the LEP,” he said.

But the meeting heard a lack of funding is affecting the planning system as well. The unitary authority that is Buckinghamshire Council is failing to unify its county.

Mr Bushe said north Buckinghamshire feels everything goes to the south and vice versa.

Evans Jones managing director David Jones was similarly unimpressed. He said: “It’s not working. It’s appalling. It’s under resourced. We are functioning with a broken planning system and some are more broken than others. But Bucks is broken in terms of its usability. And the user experience is atrocious.”

He wants higher planning fees, better funded departments and better paid officers.

He added: “We’ve got to take some responsibility because there are good people from local authorities we employ so, to a degree, we get what we deserve but the planning application process is too cheap and it’s not properly funded.

“We all need to make representations to try to address that and get the system working again because without that nothing gets developed.  If we’ve got an average determination period in Bucks of 40-50 weeks, that doesn’t work.”

Head of office for Savills Reading Phil Brown said: “We’ve got to recognise, and have some sympathy for, local authorities. They are under resourced and that needs to be addressed to unblock the system.

“We shouldn’t do it in a punitive way by punishing the local authorities, they need more support from Government so we all work together. It’s a difficult position they find themselves in and it’s difficult to bash local authorities.

The line up (l-r in image below):

Steve Woodford, managing director, Haslams

Mike Shearn, chief operations officer, Haslams

Charles Bushe, director, DevComms

Laura Fitzgerald, director, mode Transport

Joanne Bruce, marketing manager, Evans Jones

Matthew Battle, managing director, UK Property Forums

Brian Dowling, partner, Boyes Turner

David Jones, managing director, Evans Jones

Phil Brown, head of office, Savills Reading

Jo Jackson, director Thames Valley, SEGRO

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