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Fears grow over new round of planning-department funding cuts

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Architects have voiced concern after new research warned that funding cuts to local planning authorities are hampering economic growth and that the situation is likely to get worse.

According to a Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) a survey of North West planning departments, three in 10 staff had been shed over the past five years, causing increased delays in  pre-application advice, Secion 106 agreements and the finalisation of conditions. It said the picture was mirrored elsewhere across the country.

RTPI president Janet Askew said the position was endangering the region’s economic recovery and that further cuts – expected after next month’s Spending Review – could ‘reduce further planners’ ability to help to deliver vital development’.

Architects working in the North West agreed that performance in the local-authority planning sector was damaging productivity.

Matt Ollier, director of Ollier Smurthwaite Architects in Manchester, agreed that planning services had been having a ‘detrimental impact’ on the economy for years.

‘Receiving pre-application advice and getting planning applications determined in good time is the exception rather than the rule,’ he said.

‘The processing of planning applications quickly and efficiently should be given all the resources required. It is a false economy that making cuts in this area will save the government money.’

Ollier said work generated for consultants, contractors, trades and suppliers, agents, funders and warranty providers all paying tax put more disposable income into the economy that cuts in planning resources would jeopardise.

‘There has been an appetite out there for a number of years from developers to get building,’ he said. ‘This has been held back by a lack of joined up thinking from government.’

Mark Percival, director of Manchester-based practice Architecture:M said he believed the planning departments of north-west councils were ‘in meltdown’ but that resources were not only the problem.

‘I’ve been given the same excuses by planning departments who’ve blamed under-resourcing since the Blair government era,’ he said. ‘I know that there have been cuts, and that a lot of people have jumped ship. But the quality of the people who are left is also a problem.’

Percival said he dealt with planning departments across the North West and that determination delays and a generally uncoordinated approach on the part of planners cost his business around 30% of its productivity.

The architect said that as well as more resources, planners needed better leadership from councillors and heads of department.

Mike Ibbott, director at architecture and town-planning consultancy TP Bennett, said the development industry needed ‘strong and willing’ planning departments to deliver government goals of thousands of more homes across the North West and the Northern Powerhouse.

‘The RTPI research shows that local authorities are being starved of resources at a crucial time,’ he said. ‘Yet, the development industry cannot force councils to adjust their spending in order to satisfy planning needs.’

Ibbott said greater use of planning performance agreements was one way that the developers could subsidise the process.

The RTPI’s research, which was compiled by Arup, can be read here.

Manchester Town Hall

Manchester Town Hall

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