The government has launched a series of changes to the processes of planning and licensing applications which it believes will cut red tape and save money for small businesses.

Planning minister John Healy said stores would benefit from not having to pay planning application fees and administration costs for minor alterations and extensions, while small developments such as the replacement of shop fronts and installing cashpoints will also be subject to a simpler and cheaper process.

"This will make life simpler for businesses that won't need to pay out for making small alterations to their premises such as the addition of a store room at the back of a shop," he said.

"It's vital that we operate a more cost effective and efficient planning system now so that it doesn't stifle economic recovery in the future."

In a separate announcement, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has introduced a new application process for minor variations to licences to sell alcohol. The cost of some minor licence changes will now be less than £100, compared to the previous average fee of around £225. Under the new system, applicants will have to fill in a short form, pay a flat rate of £89 and will wait no more than 15 days for a response, against 28 days at present.

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman said "The minor variation procedure will save retailers money, by allowing them to make small changes to the way they run their premises without going through mounds of red tape."

However he added that the new system would not include changes to licensing hours.

"Including extending alcohol licence hours by a couple of hours in the morning would have been beneficial to retailers and customers," he said.

A recent survey by The Forum of Private Business (FPB) found that small retailers spend an average of 33 hours of their time a month on form-filling and paperwork.

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