Developers could pay a fee to have their planning applications fast-tracked under controversial new government proposals to speed up housing delivery.
According to the AJ’s sister title Construction News reported, communities secretary Greg Clark also wants the commercialisation of the planning system with local authorities able to compete to process applications or outsource to neighbouring councils.
The government said councils have had a ‘closed market’ in handling planning applications, which has resulted in limited innovation and efficiency.
Clark said the proposals, which go out to consultation today, could end the frustration felt by housebuilders and individual applicants.
’Council planning departments play a vital role in getting local housebuilding off the ground, but for too long they have had no incentive to get things done quickly or better, resulting in drawn-out applications and local frustration,’ he said.
Housing minister Brandon Lewis added: “Now we want to go further by setting out these ambitious proposals to link any future increases in application fees to councils’ performance, and testing more competition including through offering dedicated fast-track application services.”
The plans come nearly two years after property developers started to lobby the government for fast-tracked planning services.
In July 2014, then chief executive of Barratt Developments Mark Clare told Construction News the cost of planning delays was ‘massive’.
’I would much prefer this to be funded properly because I want to get the decisions and I think there are a lot of planning departments that are under enormous pressure,’ he said.
Developers are currently able to enter into planning performance agreements with local authorities, which allow them to pay a fee for certain legal services.
While some developers felt these agreements did not go far enough, others expressed concern that further commercialisation of planning could result in a biased system.
Mark Farmer, former Arcadis development director and now chief executive of consultancy Cast, said in July 2014 when the original plans were mooted that it was “critical” these fees would result in “true additional resource rather than diversion of resource”.
He added: “If the system becomes who pays the most gets their application processed and others don’t, then that wouldn’t be acceptable.”
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders
’In order to ensure the broader planning system is working as it should, it’s essential that it’s properly resourced. Local authorities need to be able to invest in their planning departments to put in place, and renew, their local plans.
’Fees, whether fast-track or standard, need to be weighted to ensure that overall the system will be adequately resourced. The system as it stands is creaking – this new approach must be made to work and it cannot come soon enough.’
Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation
’Both the public and private sectors alike have expressed deep dissatisfaction at the way in which the lack of resources in local authority planning departments is having a detrimental impact on development. The proposals announced today go some way in to address that dissatisfaction, and we are delighted to see that Government has listened to the industry and is trying to tackle this.
’Carrot-and-stick approach to planning application fees, whereby those local authorities who perform well are rewarded for their performance, is something that we have advocated for a long time. Rewarding those who are performing well in times of constrained public finances should inspire those who are under-performing to emulate them. Also, allowing local authorities to fast-track and even outsource the processing of planning applications should be a further boost to struggling authorities, and will help to bring about important development and regeneration opportunities.
’Combined, these two measures should be welcome news for developers and local authorities alike.’