Delivery test needs to be sophisticated, by Richard Garlick

Another visit to the dispatch box by the chancellor; another few pounds of extra pressure added to the backs of planning authorities.

Once again the chancellor is cracking the whip in a bid to accelerate local planning authority plan-making and decision-taking. Councils that lose more than ten per cent of appeals face ceding planning powers to central government, which will no doubt act as a further spur to those rushing to complete local plans.

The amount of time that authorities are allowed to spend in making decisions of minor applications is to be halved. And there is to be a new test for town halls, to ensure delivery against the number of homes set out in local plans.

Planners and academics have been saying for some time that the government needs to devote as much energy to ensuring the delivery of completed homes as it does to allocation of housing land. Recent statistics suggest housing permissions are being granted at twice the rate of completions. But the new test is focussed on planning authorities rather than developers.

Exactly what the test will involve, and what the penalty will be for failing it, is yet to become clear. But presumably one element will be measurement of the quantity of housing consents that have been given. Scrutinising local authority performance in granting permissions as well as allocating sites makes sense.

But it will be important that the test is sophisticated enough not to penalise planning authorities who are genuinely prioritising the development of large-scale long-term settlements. The danger for such authorities is that the test could penalise them for under-providing in year one, even if they can show convincing evidence that they will over-provide in year ten.

If the test is unable to factor in such considerations, there is a strong danger that it will incentivise piecemeal, incremental, edge-of-town sprawl that lacks the physical or social infrastructure needed to support it.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning

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