Survey charts council planning pressures


Major new planning applications in London, Greater Manchester and Bristol are taking more than double the government’s 13-week target time to reach a decision, according to the fourth Annual planning survey from the British Property Federation and GL Hearn.

The survey finds both developers and local authorities identifying a lack of resource within planning departments as a key barrier to development. Most developers believe higher planning fees might be part of a potential solution, helping local authorities shorten waiting times and improve performance. The British Property Federation also suggests bringing in the private sector to help address the shortfall in public sector resource.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • 55% of local planning authorities surveyed say under-resourcing is now a significant challenge
  • 65% of applicants would be happy to pay more to shorten waiting times
  • Major new planning application determination times have hit a three year high of 32 weeks, more than double the government target
  • Overall volume of major planning applications determined in London down 26% when compared to 2013-14
  • 75% of applicants are dissatisfied with the length of time a planning application takes – up from 71% last year.

Key regional findings include:

  • In London, the average submission to determination time is 34 weeks – 6 weeks longer than last year’s study (28 weeks) but a modest improvement from 2011/12 when it stood at 37 weeks
  • The average submission to determination time is 27 weeks in both Greater Manchester, Bristol and the surrounding area
  • The volume of major planning applications determined has fallen by 26% in London, increased by 19% in Manchester, and stayed the same in Bristol and the surrounding area
  • In line with diminishing land opportunities in the capital, densification is a more prevalent priority for applicants in London (47%) compared to applicants in the North West (14%).

Shaun Andrews, GL Hearn’s head of investor and developer planning, said: “In order to get Britain building again, we need to get Britain planning. Development activity is critical for our economy, not least in order to tackle the urgent housing crisis. This year’s Annual planning survey shows that the planning system needs investment – and that requires action across the board”.

Melanie Leech, chief executive at the British Property Federation, said: “This report shows quite clearly that local authority planning departments are struggling to cope as a result of the efforts to find savings across the public sector, and that this is having a negative impact on local authorities’ ability to deliver a timely and efficient service”.

She added: “The report shows that 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.”

Government moves to deliver – the Housing Bill

The release of the survey follows the government’s announcement of a series of measures aimed at delivering 1m homes by 2020. But they will pile further pressure on local authorities as prime minister David Cameron set out government’s expectation that all councils should have their local plans in place by 2017. While 82% of councils have published local plans – outlining how many homes they plan to deliver over a set period – 65% have fully adopted them, and almost 20% of councils do not yet have an up to date plan.

The prime minister unveiled the proposals ahead of the publication of the Housing Bill. The bill’s proposals include:

  • new affordable starter homes – a new legal duty will be placed on councils to guarantee the delivery of starter homes on all reasonably sized new development sites, and to promote the scheme to first-time buyers in their area. The government also announced that local authorities will be able to bid for a share of a £10m starter homes fund – part of a £36 million package to accelerate the delivery of starter homes – to help them prepare brownfield sites that would otherwise not be built on
  • automatic planning permission in principle on brownfield sites
  • planning reforms to support small builders – placing a duty on councils to help allocate land to people who want to build their own home
  • selling off high value vacant assets – which will be reinvested in building new affordable homes.

The temporary rule introduced in May 2013 allowing disused offices to be converted into homes without applying for planning permission will also be made permanent. Almost 4,000 conversions were given the go ahead between April 2014 and June 2015.

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