Councils in London are taking up to six weeks longer to determine major planning applications than last year - despite a 26 per cent drop in the number of permissions being sought
According to new research by property consultant GL Hearn and the British Property Federation (BPF), the average submission-to-determination time for major applications in the capital had risen to 34 weeks – up by a month and a half from last year’s survey.
The government’s target determination time for major applications is 13 weeks.
Researchers also looked at major application data for Greater Manchester and the Bristol area, where average determination times were 27 weeks. Bristol reduced its turnaround time by four weeks compared with 2014; however Manchester saw its timescales increase by 15 per cent - although it witnessed a 19 per cent hike in the number of applications.
Report authors said a majority of councils who responded to the survey believed their planning departments were not working as well as they were in 2010, while three-quarters of applicants said they were dissatisfied with the service they received.
Shaun Andrews, GL Hearn’s head of investor and developer planning, claimed the research underscored that council planning departments needed additional investment if they were to meet the government expectations for both performance and the delivery of new homes.
He said: ‘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.’
Melanie Leech, chief executive at the BPF, said the report showed ‘quite clearly’ that local authority planning departments were struggling to cope as a result of the efforts to find savings across the public sector.
‘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,’ she said.
‘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.’
Last week, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) warned that staff cuts were affecting council planning departments’ ability to offer a full range of services and that further reductions could ‘exacerbate a cycle of decline’.
President Janet Askew said resourcing issues highlighted by a detailed study from the North West mirrored challenges across the country.
She said: ‘The clear danger is that further reductions in budgets could exacerbate a cycle of decline in more authorities, and therefore reduce further planners’ ability to help to deliver vital development.’
Ben Derbyshire, HTA Design
‘Housing and planning policies suffer from the problem that the balance favours the entitlement of those who are already well housed to resist the opportunity of those who are not. Planning officers - and more particularly members - therefore spend precious resources negotiating their way through an ever more dense thicket of complicated justification for development to take place. Nowadays, it’s many times more complex to get approval than ever before despite government attempts at de-regulation.
‘Meanwhile, local planning authorities were already struggling, alongside everyone else, to find and hold onto the skills necessary. And now local authorities are really beginning to make the cuts imposed as part of the austerity era.
‘I’d like to see housing delivery elevated to a Cabinet post which might then lead to the construction of a cross cutting and integrated plan for delivery of more supply. This should delegate the powers necessary to do so to the level of city regions and empower mayoralties to tax, plan and spend to do so. That would obviously include the provision of more resources to process planning applications.’