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Survey highlights ‘timescale crisis’ in London planning departments


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.’

Further comments

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.’


Readers' comments (3)

  • Many planning departments are still bogged down with minor applications and insisting in making very small changes to submitted schemes. Why are there no permitted development rights with flats. We are having to appeal too many ill thought out decisions. It is about time that listed building consent and planning permission were combined.

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  • Chris Roche

    The Planning System remains unfit for purpose and under-resourced. Tensions exist between applicants, neighbours and community groups, and conflicts arise between agents and planning officers. Building Control was equally problematic until the alternative option of a Professional private service was introduced, and maybe it is time to consider a privatised planning route option.

    Chris Roche Founder 11.04

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  • Ben Darbyshire is right. I am now retired but since I started practice in 71 it's become more and more difficult to get consent. Many will argue that it should be more difficult but it's highly arguable that the schemes that do actually make it now are in fact any more worthy. Meanwhile architects have seen their role dismembered to the extent that frequently it is only to get planning consent and once that is achieved it's then cost engineered down to the bare bones making sure schemes are the same over the land with scant regard to local environmment, tradition or materials. Buildigs are deliberately pared down to short life expectancy. While the architects are used in the planning stage, their fees have been annihilated, and hordes of other consultants and experts are brought in to deal with the huge amount of additional justification material demanded by the authorities. At the end of the day planning committees will simply throw out applications even if they meet the requirements, or grant consent for their own schemes where the sole justification is financial expediency. Planning officers frequently encourage schemes which are then developed to be later thrown out after change of officer or policy, but the architect is stuck on a fixed fee and will make a huge loss. Been there and got several tee shirts. Here in France incidenatlly architects HAVE to be used on all planning applicaions for buildings of more that 150 sq metres. The profession in the UK has been supine.

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