Government proposals to improve planning performance
By Sam Knowlton, Graduate PlannerThe long-awaited changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) were published on 19th of December 2023 following a speech by Michael Gove (Secretary for State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities). Alongside this, further announcements were made in respect of measures targeted at speeding up the planning system and generally improving the planning application process for everyone involved. In this blog we summarise some of the key proposals from Michael Gove’s speech.
Summary of proposed measures:
- Extension of time agreements
- Introduction of league tables
- Intervention in plan-making
- Planning fees and the Planning Skills Delivery Fund
- Planning Performance Agreement (PPA) procedures
- Statutory consultees
- Committee decisions
Extension of Time agreements
The Government will be consulting on constraining the use of Extension of Time (EoT) agreements. The proposed changes, if brought into force, could see restrictions placed on when Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) can request EoTs and preventing repeat requests for EoTs. Where householder applications are concerned it was suggested that EoTs may be entirely prohibited. It was also suggested that league tables could be used as a tool for monitoring the use of EoTs across all LPAs (see below).
Changes to the way EoTs are used and in some cases removing the ability to use them altogether reflects the Government’s desire to speed up the planning system and streamline the process of decision making. However, in seeking to curtail the overuse of EoTs there is a risk the Government may create a new problem whereby LPAs simply refuse more applications just so that a decision is made within the statutory timeframe.
Introduction of league tables
A key part of the Government’s plan to speed up the planning system is the introduction of league tables covering all LPAs. These will operate as a metric to keep track of performance and assist in identifying those LPAs that are falling short on defined delivery targets. It is not yet clear what the precise metrics will be, however it is thought that speed, quality of service and decision making will be factors.
Intervention in plan-making
Where LPAs are known to be underperforming or failing in their duty to prepare a Local Plan the Government has announced that the Secretary of State will intervene. Indeed, on 19th December 2023, letters were sent to seven LPAs instructing them to revise their Local Plan timetable within 12 weeks of the publication of the NPPF or run the risk of further intervention. Mr Gove also outlined an expectation that all LPAs must have an up to date Local Plan timetable in place and supplied to DLUHC within 12 weeks.
Planning fees and the Planning Skills Delivery Fund
On 6th of December, planning fees were increased across all LPAs with the hopes that these increases would yield improved LPA performance and aid in clearing the significant backlog of live applications. In his speech, Michael Gove expressed that LPAs are required to spend these fees on planning services and that there should be no decrease in spending from the general fund. Planning fees for major and minor applications increased by 35% and 25% respectively.
In addition to the increase in planning fees, the Government is proposing future funding stemming from the Planning Skills Delivery Fund. This scheme has been proposed to help clear the backlog of applications and to provide LPAs with the skills and resources to effectively deliver the changes outlined in the Levelling up and Regeneration Act. As part of this fund 180 LPAs will collectively receive £14 million to aid the planning process.
The ring-fencing of planning application fees and additional funding for LPAs is certainly welcomed. However, it is questionable whether this will be sufficient to have a meaningful impact upon the capacity of LPAs to produce Local Plans and process applications in a timely manner.
Planning Performance Agreements (PPA)
A public consultation will take place in early 2024 regarding the proposed regularisation of PPAs across England. The aim will be to make sure they are offered across England, that clear milestones have to be agreed, that fees are set at an appropriate level, and that those fees have to be refunded where milestones are missed.
The Government has expressed frustration that large numbers of consultees only meet the 21 day consultation deadline by issuing holding responses. A three month review is to be undertaken that will assess the current stock of statutory consultees and the system in place for consultees to deliver their comments on planning applications.
The Government has expressed concerns that there are recurring instances where Members at Planning Committees are refusing applications against the recommendations of their planning officers, even where the proposals accord with Local Plan policies. This results in increasing volumes of cost appeals that are often won by the appellant and ultimately wastes officer’s time that could be better spent elsewhere. It is understood the Planning Inspectorate will keep a running record of committee decisions where the decisions of Members contradict those of planning officers and the resulting costs to the taxpayer where cost appeals are made. In doing so the Government will aim to hold Councils more accountable for the decisions they make.
It is apparent from these new measures that the Government intends to streamline the planning process, speed up decision making and make the planning system a more transparent process. Michael Gove’s speech made it clear that the Government will hold underperforming LPAs accountable for slow decision-making, lack of delivery against their targets and poor overall performance across the planning process with the threat of intervention from the Secretary of State should performance not improve.
All of these measures will be consulted on in the coming months and the GTH Planning Team will provide further updates as further announcements are made.
Get in touch
For bespoke advice in relation to the measures announced by the Government and their potential implications for your development projects, please contact Greenslade Taylor Hunt’s dedicated Development Land & Planning team.
Telephone: 01823 334466