Despite average decision making times remaining stable, more planning officers and developers than ever are concerned that the system is getting worse.
The fifth annual planning survey, published by the British Property Federation and GL Hearn, revealed that despite a lack of resources at some LPAs, the planning system has broadly stabilised after some years of flux.
Average decision making times remained stable at 31 weeks, overall approval ratings for major applications held steady at approximately 87% and there was a slight dip in the overall volume of major applications decided.
Despite this, the survey showed that overall sentiment in the industry is the worst it has ever been, with more planning officers (65%) and developers (36%) than ever concerned that the system is getting worse. 80% of applicants were dissatisfied with the time it takes for decisions to be made on planning applications, the highest figure since the survey began in 2012.
“Given the concerns about the need for investment in the system expressed in 2015, it should be seen as positive that the planning system is delivering broadly as well as it was last year,” said Alastair Crowdy, managing director of Capita Real Estate Advisory and GL Hearn. “However, our survey data shows that the majority of the industry is concerned that the status quo isn’t going to be enough to deliver the development that Britain needs.”
The British Property Federation took a dimmer view. “Average determination times are stagnating across the country, and the issue of under-resourcing continues to be very apparent,” said Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation. “Government has made noises about addressing the issue but we have yet to see any policy announcements with teeth.
“If it wants to ensure that the development industry invests in our towns and cities, bring about growth and regeneration and deliver the homes we need, then local authorities need to be sufficiently resourced.”
The largest ever independent assessment of the planning system also found that the Northern Powerhouse is delivering more planning decisions per capita than Greater London.
For the first time, the research examined major application decisions across 25 boroughs in the Northern Powerhouse, showing that they made 11 major planning application decisions per 100,000 residents, compared to nine decisions per 100,000 residents in Greater London.
“It is really encouraging to see the North live up to its ‘powerhouse’ moniker, and to be powering ahead with its development pipeline,” said Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation. “The development industry has an important part to play in ensuring growth across the country, and it is good to see that there is lots of activity in the North West.”
The data has also shown that many in the industry are hopeful that a number of proposed policy solutions could reduce application decision times and help alleviate resourcing issues at LPAs; 56% of applicants and 44% of LPA officers believe that ‘planning performance reviews’ would improve decision making times and reduce resourcing pressures at LPAs.
Some policies were more divisive; 66% of applicants and only 19% of LPA officers believe ‘permission in principle’ would improve decision making times and reduce resourcing pressures at LPAs.
Conversely, 53% of LPA officers supported changes to planning application fees but only 31% of applicants thought they would make a difference.
Although each side of the industry may have different preferences, it is clear that there is significant support for a range of policies to improve the system; such as the introduction of a brownfield register; changes to planning application fees; the use of ‘permission in principle’ and – more than any other policy – planning performance reviews.
“It is clear that in a time of economic uncertainty it is unlikely that we’ll see the planning system receive a huge investment boost; we all know that there are other, more pressing priorities for the Government and for local authorities,” said Crowdy. “As a result, we all need to work together – planners, developers and central government – to deliver innovative solutions and policies that will help get Britain planning again.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Tessellar