Planning system 'holding steady' despite budget cuts and policy changes

The planning system has 'held its own and remains ready' with average decision-making times and approval rates for major applications remaining broadly static, an annual planning survey has found.

Development: approval rates hold steady
Development: approval rates hold steady

The fifth Annual Planning Survey, published today by property lobby group the British Property Federation (BPF) and consultancy GL Hearn, combines data on major planning application decisions from 74 local planning authorities and survey data from 385 developers and local authority planning officers across England.

The survey found that average decision-making times remained stable at 31 weeks and overall approval ratings for major applications held steady at approximately 87 per cent.

Despite this, the survey showed that overall sentiment in the industry is the worst it has ever been, with more planning officers (65 per cent) and developers (36 per cent) than ever concerned that the system is getting worse.

80 per cent of applicants were dissatisfied with the time it takes for decisions to be made on planning applications, the highest figure since the survey began in 2012.

The data also showed that 66 per cent of applicants and only 19 per cent of council officers believe ‘permission in principle’ will improve decision-making times and reduce resourcing pressures on planning departments.

Conversely, 53 per cent of council officers supported changes to planning application fees, but only 31 per cent of applicants thought they would make a difference.

Speaking in the foreword to the survey, BPF chief executive Melanie Leech said: "Last year, the 2015 report issued a stark warning that significant investment would be required if we were to see any improvement in how the current planning system operates.

"While the investment gap remains, government has taken small steps in the right direction through the introduction of a number of initiatives in the Housing and Planning Act 2016.

"We should all take heart therefore that, despite a continued lack of the necessary investment, the planning system has held its own and remains ready and positive to take on the challenges that come its way."

Alastair Crowdy, managing director of Capita Real Estate Advisory and GL Hearn, said: "It is clear that in a time of economic uncertainty, it is unlikely that we’ll see the planning system receive a huge investment boost. We all know that there are other, more pressing priorities for the government and for local authorities.

"As a result, we all need to work together – planners, developers and central government – to deliver innovative solutions and policies that will help get Britain planning again."

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