DCLG hints at initial 'special measures' criteria

Councils that fail to decide on major applications within 13 weeks less than 30 per cent of the time could see their decision-making powers diverted to the Planning Inspectorate, a government document has suggested.

Further details of the government’s thinking behind the proposal, first announced in September, have emerged in an impact assessment of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, published yesterday.

The document, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, says that the precise benchmarks for assessing poor performance have "yet to be finalised" and will be subject to consultation. But it assesses the potential impact of the policy based on two indicators.

These are:

  • Timeliness, defined as the percentage of all major decisions made within 13 weeks, assessed over a two year period.
  • The proportion of major decisions overturned at appeal over a two year period.

Planning minister Nick Boles has already signalled that the proportion of major decisions made within 13 weeks over a two-year period could be a metric for deciding which councils could be designated under the proposal.
The document says that authorities where the timeliness measure is less than 30 per cent, or whose proportion of major decisions overturned is greater than 20 per cent, would be subject to these measures.

The benchmarks would be calculated from data that has already been submitted as part of the planning statistics data return, the document said.

The DCLG estimates that 180 major applications per annum would be eligible for submission directly to the PINS, based on council’s slow processing speeds. It expects at least half of these to go down this route, according to the impact assessment.

It argues that these applications would benefit from a faster decision, forecasting that at least 80 per cent of these cases would be determined within 13 weeks.

However, currently no major applications would qualify for submission to PINS based on authorities having a poor appeals record as no council has more than 20 per cent of its major decisions overturned at appeal, the document reveals.

But the government says the mere existence of the measure – and the 20 per cent threshold – will act as a disincentive to poor decision-making by authorities.

It acknowledges that there is a risk that the policy could prompt authorities to simply refuse some applications that are nearing the 13 week deadline for a decision, to help maintain good performance on speed of decisions.

But it says this is mitigated by the fact that such refusals could be overturned on appeal so the authority would then be at risk being identified as poorly-performing based on the quality of its decisions.

For complex cases where more time than 13 weeks is required to negotiate schemes, the government proposes to allow applications that are subject to planning performance agreements to be exempt from the assessment.

Growth and Infrastructure Bill: Impact Assessment can be read here.

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