Consultants optimistic on economy, survey shows

More than 90 per cent of planning consultants believe the economic climate for development will improve over the next 12 months, Planning's latest survey of the sector suggests.

London: highest concentration of consultancies
London: highest concentration of consultancies

Responses to the Planning Consultancy Survey 2013/14, conducted in September, show that 61 per cent of firms expect their consultancy teams to grow over the next 12 months, compared to 49 per cent last year

Planning fee earnings declared by 134 of the 237 firms responding to the 2014 survey amounted to £497 million in 2013/14. Residential and mixed use commissions accounted for more than a third of the £402 million in fee income respondents could attribute to individual market sectors.

Substantial increases in earnings were also reported in the transport and energy planning sectors.

Demand for planning services in the residential sector is expected to grow by 18 per cent in 2014/15, while mixed use and energy planning workloads are forecast to rise by around ten per cent.

Consultancies also expect involvement in district-wide strategies and studies and neighbourhood planning to rise further in the current financial year.

Fourteen firms reported planning fee earnings in excess of £10 million during 2013/14 and in most cases improved their performance on the previous year. RPS Group topped the high-earning planning consultancies table, with a total reported in 2013/14 of £78.6 million.

A new calculation of average planning fee income per fee earner shows that a typical figure is around £85,000 a year. However, 46 firms – including eight sole practitioners – showed an average of at least £100,000, with figures for the ten highest earners varying from £134,000 to £190,000.

Planning consultancy teams have grown significantly over the past 12 months. The ten leading employers employed 42 per cent of the 2,280 fully qualified town planners counted in the survey at 1 September 2014. Barton Willmore led the field with 134 chartered town planners, with numbers at RPS Group, Savills and Turley also in three figures.

This year’s survey found almost 200 consultancy branch offices across the UK employing four or more chartered town planners at 1 September 2014. London showed the highest concentration, with 11 firms running teams of 25 or more chartered planners.

Forty per cent of companies reported that their maximum daily fee rates for directors or partners exceed £1,000 and 22 per cent said their associates can also command four-figure sums.

Almost 60 per cent of firms say they have introduced or are planning to raise daily fee rates during 2014/15. The proportion expecting no change has dropped from 51 per cent last year to 42 per cent now.

Responses to the "Current Issues" section of the survey revealed concerns that development activity is being blocked by key planning policy instruments. More than 90 per cent of said that green belt policy is imposing undue constraints and should be reviewed. Another 57 per cent said high Community Infrastructure Levy (CLI) charges are hampering construction recovery.

Sixty per cent said neighbourhood planning has increased residents’ ability to resist development, up from 40 per cent in the 2013 survey.

The survey can be read in full here.

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