Boles: fewer than 20 councils to be subject to 'special measures'

Fewer than 20 local planning authorities will be subject to 'special measures' allowing developers to bypass their planning departments, the planning minister Nick Boles has said.

Boles: councils in special measures to be given 'intensive, wrap-around care'
Boles: councils in special measures to be given 'intensive, wrap-around care'
Speaking yesterday during the committee stage of the new Growth and Infrastructure Bill, Boles said that "on the basis of last year’s figures" a "very small number" of councils would be stripped of their planning powers under a clause in the bill.

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

Boles said that as the criteria for determining which councils should be placed in special measures have yet to be published he could not "single out" the authorities that will be affected by them. But he added: "It will be fewer than 20, and it might not be more than 10. Of course, if performance gets a lot worse, the same measures may capture more authorities."

Boles said that the councils placed in special measures would be given "a moment of intensive, wrap-around care". He said: "That is what we are thinking about in order, hopefully, to restore the authorities their full democratic control once their performance is returned to an acceptable level."

Also speaking yesterday during the bill’s committee stage, Paul Raynes, head of the Local Government Association’s housing and environment programme, said that the bill "is trying to incentivise councils through what feels more like the old-style centralised control".

He warned that the bill’s proposals to "enlarge" the role of PINS could lead to a loss of expertise from local planning authorities. He said: "There is a significant risk, actually, that the inspectorate starts to leach out precious talent from the front line in councils and creates a vicious circle, where the central control itself is then going to impact on front-line performance."

Liz Peace, chief executive of lobby group the British Property Federation, warned that "a number" of the body’s members are "quite nervous about the provisions for an applicant to go over the head of a local authority, either to PINS or the secretary of state, on the basis that my members require a long-term relationship with a local authority".

She said: "Generally, they want to go back to do something else in a couple of years’ time. They are nervous that if they take the fairly draconian action, their future relationship with that local authority would be severely damaged."

Peace said that the BPF does not oppose the measure, but added: "I would be quite surprised if I saw a lot of my members in the commercial world taking advantage of it."

Andrew Whitaker, planning director at membership body the Home Builders Federation, said that the "idea that you, as an authority, could be put on that list" would be a "powerful deterrent" against poor performance.

He said: "As a local member, you will not want to have to answer to your electorate about why you have been put on this naughty step, for want of a better word."

Earlier this week, the Department for Communities and Local Government published an impact assessment on the bill which hinted at the criteria which might be used to determine which councils should be placed in special measures.

The document said 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.

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