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Dissatisfaction with planning times ‘at highest ever level’

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Frustration with the time taken to decide planning applications is on the rise, despite there being no discernible drop in performance by planning authorities

A new survey by the British Property Federation and property consultancy GL Hearn found that 80 per cent of applicants are now dissatisfied with determination times – the highest level ever recorded.

This is despite the research finding that average determination times for major applications – at 31 weeks from submission – were no longer than last year.

Figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government also show that 84 per cent of all planning applications in 2015-2016 were determined within the department’s 13-week target.

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The report said: ‘While the planning system is not slowing down, this year’s findings provide further evidence to suggest that the current targets are simply unrealistic for most major planning applications under current conditions.’

The consistent failure to meet unrealistic targets may therefore be partly to blame for the growing discontent

The study said that measures introduced to speed up determination were not working properly and noted that hopes that a greater focus on pre-application discussions would shorten the process had not materialised.

‘With increased emphasis on the pre-planning stage, it would be hoped that the proportion of applications brought forward to determination in an acceptable manner to gain approval would be on the rise,’ the report said.

‘As this is not happening, attention needs to be paid to understanding how we can minimise wasted effort on all sides by ensuring that all submitted applications are well-informed, appropriate and more likely to ultimately succeed.’

The survey found that more work is needed to make planning performance agreements (PPAs) – now used by more than half of major developments – more effective.

It found that 60 per cent of applicants and 54 per cent of council planners are yet to feel any direct benefits in faster determination speeds or reduction in resource pressures.

However, the report said: ‘Beyond these teething problems, the industry is still very enthusiastic about the potential of PPAs with the majority of both applicants and Local Planning Authorities believing that they can have a positive impact on speeding-up decisions and alleviating resourcing pressures.’

Nearly two thirds of applicants (65 per cent) said that PPAs should have a set timeframe, while 45 per cent of council planners called for the introduction of standard formats.

The report also found that planning authorities within the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ approved 11 major applications per 100,000 residents, compared with just nine in Greater London.

Ninety-seven per cent of local authority planners and 83 per cent of applicants said that the community infrastructure levy had either reduced or not changed development activity.

The government is currently considering a report on the funding mechanism by former British Property Federation chief Liz Peace. 

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