Major application decision times stalled since last year, survey finds

Major planning decisions in three of England's biggest cities are taking almost six months and have slowed since last year, a new survey has found.

BPF chief executive Liz Peace (left) at the launch of the planning survey
BPF chief executive Liz Peace (left) at the launch of the planning survey

The annual study by consultancy GL Hearn and the lobby group the British Property Federation (BPF) looked at major planning application data in London, Greater Manchester and Greater Bristol.

The results show that major application decisions take an average of 25 weeks from the date of validation, almost double the 13-week government target. Only two councils in the three city regions hit this target.

Last year’s survey, which just focused on London and Manchester, found a slightly faster average determination time of 24 weeks, compared to 35 weeks in 2011/12.

A survey of attitudes of planning officers and applicants from across the UK found that 71 per cent of developers are dissatisfied with the time taken to make these decisions.

The survey also found that more than half of developers feel that planning is a major barrier to house building and regarded it as the greatest problem, followed by a shortage of land. In contrast, councils said that funding and demand were the key obstacles.

The findings also reveal an appetite for further change to the planning system among local authorities. Almost two thirds said the current system has significant problems and needs major change, while just under half of planning applicants agree.

About half of councils and applicants feel that the coalition government’s planning reforms have increased development activity.

Key regional findings include:

  • In London, the average approval time is 26 weeks, compared to 24 weeks last year and 34 weeks in 2011/12.

  • The comparable rates are 22 weeks in Greater Manchester and 29 weeks in Greater Bristol.

  • The number of major applications in London have increased by 32 per cent in the past year, up from 1,021 in 2013/14 but still below the 2011/12 level of 1,075.

  • Five boroughs have experienced a doubling or more in the number of major applications received – Bromley, Ealing, Hounslow, Kensington & Chelsea and Waltham Forest.

  • In Manchester, application numbers fell 24 per cent from 2012/13 to 294 in 2013/14.

Shaun Andrews, GL Hearn’s head of investor and developer planning, said: "Authorities have taken strides to make the planning system more efficient, but timings remain stubbornly high at almost double the government target.

"The current process must be made shorter, clearer and more consistent in order to capitalise on the investment being made available for new homes.

"The government needs to focus on how local planning authorities can be better resourced and encouraged to share best practice."

Andrews said the government should to look at ways that "private sector resources can be leveraged" to help achieve that.

Speaking at the survey’s launch this morning, Andrews said that application fees "have to go up" and the developer sector supported this in return for a better service.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: "It is clear that the planning system has some way to go before it meets the aspirations of developers, government and planning authorities.

"Particularly the length of time that major developments spend stuck in the ‘pre-application process’, which is something that is not picked up in any official figures, and which needs to be looked in to."

Speaking at the launch, Gary Yardley, investment director of developer Capco, echoed Andrews’ call for greater resources for planning departments to speed up development.

Meanwhile, Richard Blakeway, the Greater London Authority’s (GLA’s) deputy mayor for housing, revealed that there have been 25 bids for housing zones from 24 of London’s boroughs with the deadline for bids closing last week.

The GLA and central government are together providing funding of £400 million for the establishment of 20 housing zones, which aim to encourage fast-track housing delivery on brownfield sites

Blakeway described it as a "really positive response" from more than two-thirds of boroughs.

The third annual planning survey by GL Hearn and the BPF involved a survey of 252 local planning authorities and applicants and a review of 3,700 major applications in the London, Manchester and Bristol city regions. The full report will be published in several weeks on the GL Hearn website.

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