Performance tables don't show true picture

I was bemused to read your article in Planning magazine (16 November). I am 3 months into a new post with LB Hounslow and have been most impressed by the attention to detail applied by my Planning team to get the best for the area.

Over the period described in your article, they delivered 2553 new homes, 200,000m² of commercial floor space, 18,000m² for education, nearly 2,000 hotel bedrooms and £16m of S106 contributions. It would have been easier for them to have done soft deals to stay within the 13 week period, but the outcome for the Borough would have been significantly worse.

Your article failed to acknowledge that London Borough also had to deal with a tsunami wave of applications timed to avoid paying the Mayoral CIL for Crossrail. Needless to say, we have written to Mr. Pickles so that he is properly informed before making a hasty decision and I would hope that in future your magazine will provide a more considered commentary on an important area of planning practice.

Yours sincerely,

Brendon Walsh
Director of Regeneration
Economic Development & Environment

The editor replies: The table in the 16 Nov issue ranks English planning authority performance by one of the two criteria that the local government secretary is proposing to use to define the 'poorly performing' English boroughs that he would in future allow applicants to bypass: the proportion of major applications that have been determined within 13 weeks over a two-year period.

Since the publication of the table, the government has said that it proposes to allow applicants to bypass only planning authorities that determined 30 per cent or fewer major applications on time. In the 2010-12 period, only seven authorities would have been caught by that test.  

A second measure set out in the government consultation document would see authorities placed in special measures if the proportion of their major decisions overturned on appeal is greater than 20 per cent over two years. According to the government’s impact assessment on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, no council currently fails that test.

These are the government’s criteria, not criteria invented or proposed by Planning. The tables don't take a view of whether they are good or bad criteria - the tables are just intended to show which boroughs are most likely to be affected if the government follows through on its current thinking, and if councils' current performance statistics remain as they are now.

The question of whether the criteria are good ones is also, of course, important, and one that has been covered in several of the stories that we have run about the government's plans to bypass councils they see as poorly-performing, and which we will continue to cover.

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