Sainsbury’s planning chief Sue Willcox has unveiled the British Property Federation’s Planning Manifesto which proposes a host of measures to improve the system without the need for more time consuming and costly legislation.

Speaking at the launch at Eversheds law firm this morning she said Britain’s town-planning system has long been criticised for being over-complex and impeding economic growth.

Wilcox said: ‘We need to make a real effort to ensure the communities we create are a gift to future generations…But we need to reform the way we work. We’ve seen examples of developers having to resubmit entire applications simply because of very minor changes.

‘Councils’ demand far too much information out of fear of judicial review of decisions; this is something the government needs to amend. Ultimately, we need to stop trying to rewrite the system and concentrate on improving what we have.’

The BPF said the manifesto would encourage improvements that would be ‘vital for the delivery of new homes and other large projects’ and remove the existing planning delays and uncertainty which cost business and public bodies tens of millions of pounds a year.

It recommended that developers should be encouraged to contribute resources to help local authorities deal with planning application .Councils are already allowed to do this but unnecessary fears over issues of probity are restricting its use.

It also said that councillors should receive formal and mandatory planning training to help them take more informed decisions and form a better understanding of how the property market works.

Smaller applications like loft-extensions should be dealt with by planning ‘technicians’, said the BPF which would leave qualified planners free to tackle major schemes that have a big affect on communities.

While councils should also be encouraged to outsource work to private consultants, or form partnerships, using the freed staff for higher level work. This is a move that is currently being pioneered by Salford City Council and supported by the Audit Commission.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the BPF, said: ‘Our recommendations are designed to make the best use of what we have, mostly without the need for legislation or substantial extra local authority funding. We must ensure local politicians and officers understand how development operates and encourage developers to contribute towards more efficient processing of applications.

‘The BPF has fully supported government planning reforms but we feel there are still a lot of obvious and relatively simple changes that could be made. This manifesto is a direct response to the government’s call for the industry to support their aspirations for improvement and provides them with a blueprint for real action.’

Francis Salway, president of the BPF and chief executive of Land Securities, said improving planning was ‘central to regional economic growth’.

While Adrian Penfold, head of planning and environment at British Land, said: ‘Now is the time to step up to the mark to free up resources to focus on important plan making and major planning application work, share skills, and bring about efficiencies and benefits for hard pressed local authorities and the communities which they represent.’