Planning cuts threaten recovery, say RTPI

Cuts in staff numbers in local planning authorities are threatening economic recovery, two new studies by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) have concluded.

Research carried out by Arup in the North West of England found average cuts in planning staff of more than 30% in local planning authorities over the past five years. In many cases, its report says, local planning services are surviving on the “goodwill and professional integrity” of their officers, but this may not be sustainable in the longer term.

Joanne Harding, chair of the North West region of the RTPI, said: “Planning authorities across the North West are doing everything they can to improve the quality of their service, despite very significant funding cuts. We need greater reinvestment in planning services from sources such as the New Homes Bonus and other related income.”

Investing in delivery: How we can respond to the pressures on local authority planning, found that although the time taken to determine applications is often still good, there are indications that there are increasingly delays in pre-application advice, Section 106 agreements and discharge of conditions. It also finds local planning authorities provides a significant source of income for councils, but this positive contribution is often not reflected in the funding planning services get.

In Scotland, the companion report, Progressing performance: Investing in Scotland’s planning service finds there has been a cut of nearly 20% in planning department staff since 2010.  Despite this, progress is being made in improving performance but it warns that there is need to invest in the planning service if the pace of housebuilding is to be increased across the country. The study finds that gross expenditure in planning authorities will have dropped by £40m between 2010/11 and 2015/16, while average processing times for local planning applications have shortened by a week since 2013.

Janet Askew, president of the RTPI, said: “These two reports reflect the resourcing challenge we are hearing about from local planning authorities and developers across England. 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.”

Photo: FreeImages.com/Tracey Perry

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