Pickles: Hackney is worst performing planning authority

The London Borough of Hackney is demanding an apology from communities secretary Eric Pickles after he described it as England's worst planning authority during a Commons debate on plans to strip powers from poor performing planning teams.

Raynsford: cited Planning magazine research during Commons debate
Raynsford: cited Planning magazine research during Commons debate
Pickles was challenged by shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn to name "one example of a so-called failing planning authority" during the debate on the new Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which had its second reading yesterday.

Pickles responded: "I have been more than helpful to those Members who have had trouble with planning authorities and I have done my best to move things along, but I am very happy to name the worst, which is Hackney."

A clause in the Bill, published last month, would allow planning applications to be made directly to the Planning Inspectorate if councils have a poor track record in the speed of decisions or the proportion of applications overturned on appeal.

Benn said that Pickles’ decision to name Hackney was "extremely interesting" given that the government has yet to publish full details on how it intends to judge whether local planning authorities have a track record of poor performance.

Benn said: "If the secretary of state can name what is in his view a failing planning authority, he must know the criteria for judging a failing planning authority, yet the criteria are nowhere in the Bill; he is allowed to make them up as he goes along."

Benn added: "Officials watching this will be thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, he shouldn’t have done that,’ because he has just fettered his discretion and the consultation that he will probably have to undertake in deciding which are failing planning authorities."

But Pickles said that the government is working with the Local Government Association and local authorities on how councils will be judged. Pickles added that Benn had asked "what the worst planning authority is, and I have named it. Whether that will be regarded as a failing authority will be a matter of consultation".

Hackney mayor Jules Pipe said: "By almost all of the measures laid down by government, Hackney is a high performing planning authority.
"By the Department for Communities and Local Government's own, most recently published data, Hackney has exceeded all targets set by government. We will be writing to Mr Pickles to demand an apology and retraction of his misleading statement in the House."

Speaking later during the debate, Greenwich and Woolwich Labour MP Nick Raynsford referred to tables produced by Planning on the English authorities who suffered the highest proportion of defeats in planning appeals and those that were lowest scoring for determining applications within 26 weeks.

Raynsford said: "[Planning] has produced a helpful table showing authorities that might fall into the category of being tardy in dealing with applications or having a disproportionate number of their cases overturned on appeal.

"Could I find Hackney listed - the one authority the secretary of state identified? Yes, it was there, but only at the very bottom of one of the three lists - it was in only one of the three. It was the 21st - out of 25 - lowest scoring English councils for determining all applications within 26 weeks.

"That is not exactly the kind of criterion that would lead one to assume that it deserves to be singled out for having powers stripped away from it. By contrast, Stratford-on-Avon, Torbay and Kensington and Chelsea all feature much higher up the lists, and all are in two out of three of the lists."

Labour MP for Easington, Grahame Morris, later highlighted research by Planning into the slowest decision-makers by political control.

He said: "If time limits are part of the criteria applied to judge performance, we should consider that, with major planning applications, 63 per cent of the slowest 10 per cent of councils are Conservative and that with all planning applications 50 per cent of the slowest 10 per cent of councils are Conservative. There is not really a case to suggest that Labour is dragging its feet in respect of timely considerations."


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