“Planning in England is at a crux point,” says British Property Federation

“Cuts in local planning departments are undermining central government’s ambitions for the delivery of new housing,” says Royal Town Planning Institute

Three separate surveys on planning were published last month, two of which reviewed the current state of the planning system in England whilst a third report analysed the planning system in Scotland. Two of the reports were published by the Royal Town Planning Institute whilst the third was published by the British Property Federation and GL Hearn.

The British Property Federation and GL Hearn publish an annual survey of planning in the UK. This year’s survey concentrated on major planning applications in Greater London, Greater Manchester and the Bristol area in the year 2014-15, together with a survey of local planning authorities and applicants in England. The survey found that submission to determination times for major planning applications continue to lengthen, whilst 65% of the applicants surveyed said they would be happy to pay higher planning fees to guarantee shorter determination times. More than 50% of the local planning authorities surveyed said that under-resourcing will present a significant challenge to delivery over the next year, and the survey summarises the situation as a “planning system on the brink.”

Also published last month were two reports by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Both reports highlight reductions in local planning authority budgets and staffing as the cause of delays in bringing forward development. One of the surveys, carried out by RTPI Scotland, analyses local planning authorities in Scotland and finds there has been a 20% reduction in planning department staff since 2010.

The second RTPI report, commissioned by RTPI North-West and carried out by Arup, provides an in-depth analysis of the North-West region, the research for which included interviews with planners, decision-makers, developers and consultancies, as well as a survey of local authorities. The research found a 33% decrease in overall planning staff since 2010, including an average decrease of 37% in planning policy staff and an average decrease of 27% in development management staff. The report says that determination times for planning applications in many authorities is “often still good,” but notes “there are increasingly delays and uncertainty in pre-application advice, S106 agreements and the discharge of conditions.” Interviews with developers found that not all developers want to see more planning reforms, “but would prefer properly-funded local authority planning and greater certainty.”

The RTPI’s Deputy Head of Policy and Research, Dr Michael Harris, says the North-West research also noted that “a lack of proactive plan-making due to cuts is likely to result in fewer projects coming forward – in other words, it’s not just about the time taken to process applications, it’s also about the capacity of local authorities to set out plans for their areas that can set the context for development and provide greater certainty for developers.”

Though the three planning surveys may differ on their analysis of determination times and what can be done about the situation (for instance, the British Property Federation’s call for higher planning fees versus the Royal Town Planning Institute’s call for more investment in planning resources), they all agree on the overall conclusion, says Michael Harris: “Cuts in local planning are resulting in delays bringing forward development, and undermining central government’s ambitions for the delivery of housing and economic growth more broadly. The danger now is that further reductions in budgets could exacerbate a cycle of decline in more authorities, so further impacting on delivery and development.”

The annual planning survey published by the British Property Federation and GL Hearn is available as a PDF download by clicking here.