Lack of resources leads to major planning challenges

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New data has revealed significant challenges are hindering the ability of local authorities to push through planning applications…

Getting Britain building has been the main objective of this government. Under the former coalition administration, the Conservatives cut through the red tape of the planning system to streamline the process. However, despite these efforts there are still major challenges, not least of all a severe lack of resources.

New data from the Annual Planning Survey has revealed the difficulties facing the planning system. According to the figures 55 per cent of Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) report a lack of resources has become a significant challenge.

Major new planning application determination times hit a three year high of 32 weeks during 2014/15—more than double the government target of 13 weeks.

Major new planning applications are defined as full applications for 10 or more dwellings. This comprises of 0.5 hectares or more for residential development and 1,000 sq m or one hectare or more for commercial developments. This excludes section 73 amendments, which are not considered new planning applications.

Across the country, 47 LPAs reviewed these types of planning applications. This included 33 in London, 10 in Greater Manchester, and 4 in Bristol and the surrounding area.

Data from the fourth Annual Planning Survey, undertaken by the British Property Federation and GL Hearn, revealed that in London alone major planning applications determined fell by 26 per cent when compared to 2013-14.

London also saw its average submission to determination time increase from 28 weeks last year to 34 this year. This was an improvement from 2011/12 when the figure was 37 weeks. However, it still exceeds the government set target.

It is not just the capital seeing issues. Greater Manchester and Bristol also reported the average submission to determination time was 27 weeks. However, Manchester saw an increase in the volume of major planning applications by 19 per cent, while there was no change in Bristol and the surrounding area.

Many major cities across England have reportedly taken more than six months to determine major new planning applications. In these cases both the developer and local authorities said a lack of resources within planning departments was creating significant barriers to progress.

Around 65 per cent of applicants said they would be willing to pay higher planning fees if this shortened waiting times and improved the planning process.  Concerns came from both the public and private sector, with 50 per cent reporting the planning system did not work as well as it had in 2010.

Unsurprisingly, the number of respondents expressing dissatisfaction with the length of time a planning application takes rose from 71 per cent last year to 75 this year.

Commenting on the findings, GL Hearn’s Head of Investor and Developer Planning Shaun Andrews, said: “In order to get Britain building again, we need to get Britain planning. Development activity is critical for our economy, not least in order to tackle the urgent housing crisis.

“This year’s Annual Planning Survey shows that the planning system needs investment – and that requires action across the board.

“We need to ensure that planning authorities have the right people with the right skills and powers in place to drive forward a growth agenda – and that the system is able to release the right resources when it’s needed.

“For their part, developers need to speak with a single voice – and make it clear what levels of service they need and how much they are prepared to pay for it.

“’There is an urgent need to find bold new solutions to this shared challenge. Further streamlining of the system may well be part of the solution but to get Britain planning to enable growth requires investment.

“This is an industry-wide issue that needs us all to collaborate to prevent a poorly functioning planning system stifling economic growth.”

British Property Federation’s Chief Executive Melanie Leech added: “This report shows quite clearly that local authority planning departments are struggling to cope as a result of the efforts to find savings across the public sector, and that this is having a negative impact on local authorities’ ability to  deliver a timely and efficient service.

“The fact of the matter is that an effective planning system is crucial to enabling regeneration and development, and if government wants to meet the housing challenge and develop the commercial buildings that support our economy, it is going to need to take action.

“The report shows that there is potentially scope for the private sector to plug this gap, and we urge the government to begin a dialogue with the property industry to see how this might be taken forward.”

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