Exclusive: Six councils in line for 'special measures', figures reveal

Six local planning authorities could be in line to be placed in 'special measures' if criteria in an impact assessment of the new growth bill is adopted, research by Planning has suggested.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles (pic courtesy DCLG)
Communities secretary Eric Pickles (pic courtesy DCLG)

The government is set to consult on the criteria for deciding which councils are designated ‘poor performing’ allowing applications to be submitted directly to the Planning Inspectorate as proposed in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill.

An impact assessment of the bill published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) this week assesses the potential impact of the policy based on two indicators.

One measure suggested in the impact assessment would see councils placed in special measures if they fail to decide on major applications within 13 weeks less than 30 per cent of the time over a two-year period.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has already labelled the London Borough of Haringey the "worst" planning authority in England, on the basis that it decided only 17 per cent of major applications on time from March 2010 to March 2012.

Analysis by Planning of official data for councils’ performance on deciding major applications on time over this two-year period has shown that after Haringey, the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Torbay, the London boroughs of Hounslow and Barking and Dagenham, and Cambridge, also performed under the 30 per cent threshold.

A second measure suggested in the impact assessment would see authorities placed in special measures if their proportion of major decisions overturned on appeal is greater than 20 per cent over two years.

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.

The precise benchmarks for assessing poor performance have "yet to be finalised" and will be subject to consultation, the document adds. But it says the benchmarks would be calculated from data that has already been submitted as part of the planning statistics data return.

Meanwhile, Haringey has called for an immediate apology and withdrawal of Pickles’ comments.

In a letter to Pickles, council leader Claire Kober strongly defended her planning department, saying the 30 major applications received in the two-year period took longer to deal with due to their complexity and the fact that many were related to major regeneration of riot-damaged site in Tottenham.

She questioned the efficacy of such performance measure for major planning applications.

"They do little to reflect the complexities involved in determining such planning applications. Indeed my officers would be more than happy to share with your officials examples of the many occasions when developers support the slowing of applications for reasons of commercial viability," she said.

"I must ask for an immediate apology and that you withdraw your comments given the reputational damage they are already starting to cause," she added.

"This is at a time when we are seeking to maximise investor confidence and encourage the transformation of Tottenham following the riots of 2011."

She warned that Pickles’ comments could put at risk the "notable progress made in the Tottenham area including the new Spurs stadium and a number of major regeneration projects".

She added that the minister’s comments were surprising given the close cooperation between the council and the DCLG after the riots.

Pickles has already had to issue a correction after he wrongly named the London Borough of Hackney as the worst planning authority during a Commons reading of the growth bill, saying that he had meant to name Haringey.

Asked to respond to Haringey’s letter, a DCLG spokesman said: "The government intends to consult shortly on its proposed approach to working with the very worst performing local planning authorities to improve the service they offer to applicants and local residents.

"Haringey has the worst performance for deciding major planning applications in England over the last two years (March 2010 to March 2012) with only 17 per cent of major applications determined on time."

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

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