News Government Wants Councils Compete Planning Applications

Councils will compete with each other to process planning applications and will be able to offer fast-track services similar to those for getting a passport under a proposed shake-up of the planning system.

The Department for Communities & Local Government, which has published a consultation on the measures, said the move will break up the “closed market” for handling planning applications, which provides no incentive to innovate or speed up services, leading to frustration for both housebuilders and individual applicants.

It added that research over the last 30 years suggests competitively tendered or shared services can cut costs by up to a fifth.

Ministers also want to link any future increases in councils’ fees for processing planning applications to be dependent on their performance in terms of speed and quality of decisions.

The final decision on an application will remain with the relevant local authority.

In October, research by GL Hearn found that the average time to determine a planning application has climbed to a three-year high of 32 weeks – more than double the Government’s target of 13 weeks. Some major applications can take over six months to decide.

Many planning authorities blame cuts for pushing the system “to the brink” with more than half (55 per cent) saying a lack of resources is a significant challenge.

Launching the new proposals, local government secretary Greg Clark said: “Council planning departments play a vital role in getting local housebuilding off the ground, but for too long they have had no incentive to get things done quickly or better, resulting in drawn out applications and local frustration.

“These proposals will be a boost for housebuilders looking to build much-needed new homes for hardworking families and first-time buyers, and for local people looking to get a planning permission for home improvements through their local council quicker.”

Planning minister Brandon Lewis added: “Many councils are already working hard to improve the services they offer their residents, and across the country people’s satisfaction levels remain high.

“Now we want to go further by setting out these ambitious proposals to link any future increases in application fees to councils’ performance, and testing more competition including through offering dedicated fast track application services.”

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said the changes are urgently needed.

“It’s very welcome news that the Government has listened to the concerns of industry over the sclerotic planning system. Across the country, SME housebuilders continue to be frustrated by a painfully slow planning process that is holding back the delivery of new homes. The numerous sources of delays and inefficiencies in the system impact upon housebuilding rates, and act as a major deterrent to small developers who need to see speedy returns on their investments. Anything which encourages innovation and incentivises councils to deal with applications with greater urgency must be welcome.”

Councils have argued that the planning system is not acting as a barrier to development, with figures published by the LGA showing that permission has been granted for 475,647 homes that have yet to be built – a record high.

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