Lack of resources in councils holding up major planning applications

Major new planning applications in English cities are taking well over six months to determine due to a lack of resources, new research suggests.

Both developers and local authorities have identified a lack of resource within planning departments as a key barrier to development. The majority of developers believe higher planning fees might be part of a potential solution, helping local authorities shorten waiting times and improve performance.
The average submission to determination time for a major planning application is 32 weeks across London, Greater Manchester and Bristol and the surrounding area, over double the government target of 13 weeks.

In addition to this, and despite a worsening housing crisis, the overall volume of major applications determined in London fell by 26%, according to the fourth Annual Planning Survey from the British Property Federation and GL Hearn, part of Capita plc.
Both public and private sector respondents to the survey expressed concern with the lack of resources available to local planning authorities. Some 55% of local authorities say under resourcing is a significant challenge and 50% believe the planning system is not operating as well as it was in 2010.
Also a significant 75% of applicants are dissatisfied with the length of time a planning application takes, up from 71% last year. The survey found that 65% of applicants would be happy to pay more if it would shorten determination times.
The details of the research shows that in London, the average submission to determination time is 34 weeks, some six weeks longer than last year’s study but a modest improvement from 2011/2012 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 at 47% compared to applicants in the North West at 14%.
‘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,’ said Shaun Andrews, GL Hearn’s head of investor and developer planning.

‘We need to ensure that planning authorities have the right people with the right skills and powers in place to drive forward a growth agenda and that the system is able to release the right resources when it’s needed. For their part, developers need to speak with a single voice and make it clear what levels of service they need and how much they are prepared to pay for it,’ he pointed out.

‘There is an urgent need to find bold new solutions to this shared challenge. Further streamlining of the system may well be part of the solution but to get Britain planning to enable growth requires investment. This is an industry wide issue that needs us all to collaborate to prevent a poorly functioning planning system stifling economic growth,’ he added.

According to Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, the 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.

‘This is having a negative impact on local authorities’ ability to deliver a timely and efficient service. The fact of the matter is that an effective planning system is crucial to enabling regeneration and development, and if government wants to meet the housing challenge and develop the commercial buildings that support our economy, it is going to need to take action,’ she said.

‘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,’ she added.