2018
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Planning regime changes welcomed

Two reports into the country’s planning system, which concluded that changes need to be made if the Government is to hit its ambitious target of 300,000 news homes a year, have been welcomed by Jonathan Buckwell, director at DHA, the leading planning and transport consultant offices in Maidstone and Crawley.

Jonathan Buckwell

After undertaking reviews of the planning system, the National Audit Office (NAO) and leading economist Bridget Rosewell have independently reported their concerns and made recommendations for change.

Delays in making planning decisions are putting confidence and growth at risk. Given the current uncertainty over what Brexit will look like and its impact, these are risks that must be avoided.

The reports endorse DHA’s approach to securing permission at the first attempt by working closely with the local community and local authorities. By avoiding having to go to appeal it means development schemes can progress as delays inevitably increase costs and undermine their viability.

The National Audit Office (NAO), the organisation that holds the Government to account over its spending and public services, has cast doubt over the ability to hit the new homes target after it found the planning system is under-performing and not offering value for money.

The NAO’s Planning for New Homes report follows a detailed examination of the planning system, including how the Government and local authorities calculate the number of new homes needed; how council planning departments are performing and how the system is failing to secure adequate contributions for infrastructure from developers.

The NAO rightly recognises that local authorities are under significant pressure in terms of recruiting and retaining planning officers.

Every effort must be made to improve the speed and efficiency of the planning system, and this requires increased Government funding for more planning officers, Inspectors and better use of IT.

While the NAO acknowledged that the Government is aware of the shortfalls in the planning system and that changes had been made, it was too early to say how effective these reforms will be.

The NAO report also examined the Planning Inspectorate, the Government’s agency which deals with planning appeals, national infrastructure and Local Plans. It stated that it was under-performing, a conclusion shared by an independent review undertaken for the Ministry of Homes, Communities & Local Government, by leading economist Bridget Rosewell.

She concluded that the Planning Inquiry process needs to be speeded up if the Government is to hit its ambitious target of building 300,000 news homes a year.

Bridget Rosewell believes that the average time taken to decide a planning appeal inquiry could be reduced to 26 weeks from the current average of 47 weeks.

Whilst the Planning Inspectorate’s statistics show that Inspector-decided cases in 2017/18 took an average of 47 weeks from receipt of the appeal to a decision letter being issued, DHA’s experience is that the appeal system appears to have slowed considerably further over the last year.  

It now takes almost a year to secure a decision on a planning inquiry, and that’s after having taken even longer to go through the planning system locally.

One of the biggest issues in recent months, not acknowledged to in Roseland’s report, is that it is often taking several months from receipt of the appeal to an official start letter being issued. This is being blamed on a shortage of suitable Inspectors and has added a very substantial delay to an already slow process.

For all these reasons, DHA work hard to secure local approvals wherever possible, with planning appeals being an option of last resort. However, it is essential that the appeal system works efficiently so that developers can exercise their right to appeal without being punished with unnecessary and costly delays.

The Rosewell report makes 22 recommendations including the recruitment of additional planning inspectors and the launch of a new online portal for submission of appeals, which have all been accepted by the Government.

Jonathan Buckwell can be contacted on 01622 776226 or via: www.DHAplanning.co.uk

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