Planning's review of latest Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) performance data reveals a rapid growth in the number of English local authorities making use of Planning Performance Agreements (PPAs) for major schemes.
The study also shows a huge upsurge in the number of major decisions involving a PPA over the last two years.
PPAs are performance management tools that were first formally introduced into the English planning system in April 2008. They involve the agreement of a bespoke timetable between a local planning authority and an applicant where it is clear at the pre-application stage that it will take longer than the statutory period to reach a decision. Authorities have powers to charge for the pre-application phase of PPAs.
The analysis shows that 77.4 per cent of English district-level planning authorities had decided a major application with a PPA in the two years to June 2014. Only 26.7 per cent of authorities had decided a major application involving a PPA in the 24 months to June 2013, Planning found.
The figures also show that there were 28 major decisions in England involving the use of PPAs in the third quarter of 2012. The analysis reveals a sharp increase in PPA decisions each quarter, up to the second quarter of 2014 - the most recent for which data are available - when 1,050 applications involving PPAs were decided by district authorities.
Planning's analysis also reveals that Cornwall Council decided the greatest number of applications involving the use of PPAs between July 2012 and June 2014 (144), followed by Leeds City Council (96), Durham County Council (89) and Westminster City Council (83).
Overall, 91.2 per cent of PPAs were decided in the agreed time over the two-year period, the figures show.
Claire Dutch, a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells International, said: "We are seeing more local authorities use PPAs. On big schemes it is almost standard now, whereas two years ago we were not seeing that."
Dutch suggested that the increase in the use of PPAs could be driven by an increase in development activity, local planning authorities' fear of being placed in special measures for being too slow in deciding major applications, and practitioners getting used to the agreements.
"When they first came out, they were far too complicated," she said. "I think that people are now getting used to them and accepting that if they are going to work they need to be simple and to the point."
Richard Maung, associate director at property firm Deloitte Real Estate, said PPAs allow local planning authorities and developers to "agree timescales for delivery and key dates and milestones".
He added that developers have welcomed the specific resource provided by PPAs. "It's having a dedicated officer at the other end of the line," he said.
According to the results of a survey published last month by lobby group the British Property Federation and consultancy GL Hearn, 38 per cent of applicants feel that PPAs have increased development activity, while 59 per cent believe that they have made no impact.
The Labour-commissioned housing review carried out by Sir Michael Lyons, which published its final report last week, argues that in order to be more effective, PPAs "need to be simpler, more flexible and proportionate so they can be applied to a wider range of projects".
"This should include focusing a PPA on a more limited number of issues or specific parts of the planning process - thereby reducing the cost and complexity and ensuring they can be used more widely".