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Profession pans 'EasyCouncil' two-speed planning proposals

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Plans by Barnet Council to introduce a faster planning process for applicants who pay more have been condemned by architects, planners and consultants

It is feared the proposed scheme, which has been likened to the extra charges demanded by no-frills airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair for services ‘once considered part of the standard fare’, could create a two-tier planning system.

Matt Thomson, head of policy at the Royal Town Planning Institute said: ‘[We] agree that our planning system needs to be properly resourced but creating a system that seems ready-made for conflicts of interest and raised expectations among applicants of the success of their proposals is not the way to proceed

‘These proposals risk creating a two-tier planning system where wealthy developers appear to receive preferential treatment ahead of those who cannot or do not wish to pay an extra fee.’

Meanwhile Andy Rogers, the chair of the ACA’s (Association of Consultant Architects) planning group, believes the move could create other, contractual problems. He said: ‘The danger, if that’s the right word, is that Barnet would create a legal contract, namely payment for a specific time related service, between the applicant and the Council which it may not be able to fulfil.  

‘Will the applicant be able to sue the Council for non-performance if the decision is not provided in the time or, worse, if the decision is a refusal that’s overturned on appeal?’

Robert Klaschka, of London-based practice Markland Klaschka, is also dubious about the real advantages of paying more for the ‘superior’ service – particularly in Barnet.

He said: ‘There isn’t any real benefit to paying extra at Barnet because at a political level there is too much incentive for councillors to reject schemes.

‘I wouldn’t recommend paying extra to fast-track to any of my clients. I think it’s a red herring and will simply be used to generate more revenue.’

According to The Guardian the proposals ‘are being seen as an example of “new Conservatism” which is spreading among Tory-controlled boroughs. Observers believe “radical outriders” such as Barnet offer a glimpse of how a David Cameron government could overhaul public service provision in an era of heavy spending cuts.’

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