Scarce council resources preventing good planning, say 90 per cent of consultants

More than nine out of ten planning consultants believe that limited council planning team resources is hindering plan-making and decision-making, according to this year's Planning Consultancy Survey.

Asked if they agreed that a lack of resources for local authority planning departments is a major constraint on local plan production and timely decisions on applications, 58 per cent of respondents said they strongly agreed and 35 per cent agreed.

The findings come ahead of a possible announcement in next Wednesday’s housing white paper of measures to boost local government planning resources, including the possibility of raising planning fees.

However, consultants were less keen on allowing councils to set their own application fees.

Only 30 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that authorities who perform well should be allowed to set their own fee rates, while 43 per cent opposed. This represented a slightly more favourable position than last year, when just 25 per cent supported the statement and 63 per cent opposed.

In response to this year’s Planning Consultancy Survey, we received usable responses from 149 firms. As part of the survey, we asked them a series of questions about current planning issues.

Respondents expressed strong views about green belt, with 83 per cent agreeing or strongly agreeing that green belt policy "imposes undue constraints on development and should be reviewed".

Many consultants do not appear to be positive about the impact of neighbourhood planning. Despite government claims that it is boosting housing supply, almost two thirds agreed that it has "increased residents ability to resist development".

Consultants were divided on taking advantage of the government’s proposal to allow ‘alternative providers’ to process planning applications. While 41 per cent agreed that their firm "would be interested in being designated as an alternative provider for processing planning applications", 43 per cent disagreed.

There was support for the Local Plans Expert Group’s proposal to introduce an annual agreed position on councils’ five-year housing land supply. Almost 60 per cent agreed that this would help increase housing delivery and only 14 per cent disagreed.

Consultants are sceptical that the Housing and Planning Act will help the government achieve its target of building one million homes between 2015 and 2020. Only a quarter agree that the act has "made a useful contribution" to the target and three in ten disagree.

There was even more scepticism towards the government’s expectation that planning permissions for housing will be in place on 90 per cent of suitable brownfield sites by 2020. Only 15 per cent believed this, while seven out of ten felt it was not realistic.

Elsewhere in the survey, only 40 per cent of firms said they expected the economic climate for development to improve in the next year, a sharp drop from the 88 per cent who agreed in 2015.

Six out of ten said they think the consultancy market would be in a better shape if the Brexit referendum vote had been to remain in the European Union - only 13 per cent disagreed.

Nevertheless, almost two-thirds of consultancies said they still expect to take on more staff in the next year.

The survey can be read in full here. 


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