Under a proposed restructuring of the planning system, councils will compete for the processing of planning applications and will be able to offer fast-track services similar to those available for obtaining a passport.
The move, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government, 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.
According to research conducted over the last 30 years, competitively tendered or shared services can reduce costs by up to a fifth.
Ministers also want to tie any future increases in council fees for processing planning applications to their performance in terms of decision speed and quality.
The relevant local authority will make the final decision on an application.
According to GL Hearn research, the average time to determine a planning application has risen to a three-year high of 32 weeks, which is more than double the Government’s target of 13 weeks. Some major applications can take up to six months to be resolved.
Many planning authorities blame budget cuts for pushing the system “to the breaking point,” with more than half (55%) citing a lack of resources as a major challenge.
“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,” said local government secretary Greg Clark in announcing the new proposals.
“These proposals will help housebuilders build much-needed new homes for hardworking families and first-time buyers, as well as locals who want to get planning permission for home improvements from their local council faster.”
“Many councils are already working hard to improve the services they offer their residents,” said Planning Minister Brandon Lewis, “and people’s satisfaction levels remain high across the country.”
“Now we want to take it a step further by laying out these ambitious proposals to tie any future increases in application fees to council performance, as well as test more competition, including by offering dedicated fast track application services.”
According to Brian Berry, CEO of the Federation of Master Builders, the changes are urgently needed.
“It is very encouraging that the government has listened to industry concerns about the sclerotic planning system.” Across the country, small and medium-sized homebuilders are frustrated by a painfully slow planning process that is delaying the delivery of new homes. The numerous sources of system delays and inefficiencies have an impact on housebuilding rates and are a major deterrent to small developers who require quick returns on their investments. Anything that encourages innovation and encourages councils to deal with applications more quickly must be welcomed.”
Councils have argued that the planning system is not impeding development, citing LGA figures showing that permission has been granted for 475,647 homes that have yet to be built – a record high.