Councils to be urged to fast-track planning applications to boost housebuilding

Councils will be able to offer fast-track planing applications under new government proposals.

Councils will compete to process planning applications and be able to offer fast track application services under new proposals put out to consultation by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The consultation, which includes proposals to allow well-performing local authorities to increase their planning application fees and to compete to process planning applications, was welcomed by the property industry as a significant boost for cash-strapped local authorities.

Welcoming the proposals, the British Property Federation (BPF) said it showed that government had listened to the industry’s concerns on planning issues, citing their 2015 Annual Planning Survey which showed that 55% of local planning authorities perceived under-resourcing to be a significant challenge, with 75% of applicants dissatisfied with the length of time a planning application takes.

Councils will compete to process planning applications and be able to offer fast track application services, similar to those available for getting a passport, in a shake-up of the planning process under proposals put out to consultation today by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Ministers want to tackle what they claim is the lack of incentive for councils to improve and speed up their planning service leading to “drawn out applications and local frustration” for both housebuilders and individual applicants. The proposals are expected to boost housebuilding and speed up the planning application process.

BPF chief executive Melanie Leech, said: “Both the public and private sectors alike have expressed deep dissatisfaction at the way in which the lack of resources in local authority planning departments is having a detrimental impact on development. The proposals announced today go some way in to address that dissatisfaction, and we are delighted to see that government has listened to the industry and is trying to tackle this.

“A carrot-and-stick approach to planning application fees, whereby those local authorities who perform well are rewarded for their performance, is something that we have advocated for a long time,” said Leech. “Rewarding those who are performing well in times of constrained public finances should inspire those who are under-performing to emulate them. Also, allowing local authorities to fast-track and even outsource the processing of planning applications should be a further boost to struggling authorities, and will help to bring about important development and regeneration opportunities, she said.

The government says the proposals will increase local choice by giving applicants the choice of whether to submit their plans to the local council, a competing council under a series of competition pilot schemes yet to be announced, or a government approved organisation that would process applications up until the decision point.

Councils will also be able to offer the fast track planning application service, either through competition pilots or potentially through devolution deals.

Planning minister Brandon Lewis said: “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.”

DCLG said that councils have had a ‘closed market’ in handling planning applications, with limited incentive for innovation and efficiency, yet research studies over the last three decades in the UK and abroad suggested there are cost savings of up to a fifth for competitively tendered or shared services.

The consultation on the competition pilots and fast track services can be downloaded here.

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