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News » UK » Fast-track option to be introduced for planning applications » published 18 Feb 2016

Fast-track option to be introduced for planning applications

The government has yielded to the demands of developers and agreed that they can pay their way to speed through the planning system.

Planning minister Brandon Lewis Above: Planning minister Brandon Lewis

House-builders and developers have told the government that they were prepared to pay higher fees for planning applications if it meant that permission could be granted more quickly.

And local authorities supported the proposal. A study by the Local Government Association (LGA) last November found that there is a £450m shortfall across England and Wales between fees paid for planning applications and the cost of processing them. The LGA has been lobbying for the right for councils to set their own planning fee rates. [Read our previous report here.]

The fast-track service is similar in concept to that offered by the Passport Office, the government said.

The government is also proposing to introduce competition in handling planning applications to increase choice for applicants. However, decision making on planning applications would remain with the local council to ensure decisions are taken locally and maintain the democratic link between local people and decision makers.

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.”

A consultation on the competition pilots and fast track services is published today.

 

Industry reaction

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) supports the government’s new proposals to offer a fast track planning process. Chief executive Brian Berry said: “It’s very welcome news that the government has listened to the concerns of industry over the sclerotic planning system. Across the country, SME house builders 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 house building 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.”

Mr Berry continued: “Developers of all sizes have consistently said that they would be willing to pay higher planning application fees, provided the extra resources were ring-fenced to deliver a better quality service. The proposals announced today by the government provide an avenue to house-builders to access speedier planning that will allow them to get on with what they do best – building homes.”

He concluded: “Nevertheless, in order to ensure that the broader planning system is working as it should, it’s essential that it’s properly resourced. Local authorities need to be able to invest in their planning departments to put in place, and renew, their local plans. Fees, whether fast track or standard, need to be weighted to ensure that overall the system will be adequately resourced. The system as it stands is creaking – this new approach must be made to work and it cannot come soon enough.”

 

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

“Combined, these two measures should be welcome news for developers and local authorities alike.”

 

The House Builders Association (HBA) expressed concern about the financial implications of these proposals on small and medium-sized house builders.

Rico Wojtulewicz, policy advisor for the HBA, said: “A tiered system reliant on financial influence or risk may not be the best solution to speeding up planning and solving the housing crisis. The costs of house building are considerable and further increasing them may be counterproductive. SMEs need access to finance since they’re usually unable to do build without full planning permission. Given that a planning application for a site of five homes may be in excess of £60,000, how much more will SME house builders be expected to pay? Will non fast tracked planning applications receive less focus?”

 

Jason Lowes, partner at property and planning consultant Rapleys, said: “In our experience, many developers would be happy to pay larger fees if that guaranteed a more efficient service. Generally the most important factors for developers going through the planning system is certainty and timely decision making, and they will be hoping these proposals will deliver this. However, many will remember instances where new charges have been introduced that have not resulted in across the board improvements in service, for example charges for pre-application advice.

“Some local authorities do already outsource at least some of the processing of planning applications to external consultancies, so plans to open the market up aren’t necessarily revolutionary, not least as it appears that the final decision will still rest with the local authority within which the proposal sits. However, if, when the full details of these reforms are put forward, different local authorities are able to process each other’s planning applications, that would represent something of a sea change to the system.”

 

 

MPU

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This article was published on 18 Feb 2016 (last updated on 18 Feb 2016).

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