20 things we learned from the 2018 Planning Consultancy Survey

The Planning Consultancy Survey brings together detailed responses from 128 firms to provide a uniquely detailed insight into the market for professional planning advice. Here are the 20 key things that we have learned from it.

STAFFING LEVELS

1 Two top ten consultancies reported big drops in numbers of chartered town planners (CTPs) employed. WYG's CTP numbers dropped by 24, and RPS's by 22. DLP Planning saw the third biggest drop in CTP numbers, by five to 38. More

2 The biggest increase in professional planning capacity took place at Arup, where CTP numbers rose by 13. In second place was Savills, where CTP numbers rose by ten, and third equal were Peter Brett Associates and Jacobs, with seven each (although PBA said its increase is explained by under-reporting last year). 

3 Overall planner numbers at the ten biggest employers in the survey who also took part last year are almost static. These firms report that they employed a total of 966 planners in September 2018, compared with 965 in 2017.

4 The average number of chartered town planners employed by respondents to the survey has grown for four successive years, to 16 in this year's edition.

5 The majority of consultants expect to expand their teams in the next 12 months. Sixty per cent expect to grow in terms of staffing, compared to 22 per cent who do not. More

FEE RATES

6 Most respondents charge a maximum fee rate of more than £1000 per day. Sixty per cent of firms said that their maximum daily rate was higher than £1000. 24 per cent have a maximum daily rate of £1500 or more. Nine per cent had a maximum daily rate of less than £600. Graphic showing fuller breakdown here

7 Almost two-thirds of firms expect to increase their fee rates next year. 63 per cent said they planned an increase, compared to 37 per cent who did not. The most commonly reported band for fee increases was five to nine per cent, to be levied by 34 per cent of respondents. Eight per cent said they would be seeking rises of between ten and 20 per cent, but no firm reported a plan to raise fees by 20 per cent or more. See graphic here.

8 Barton Willmore reported the highest maximum fee rate in our survey, at £2,325 a day - a figure that was the same last year. In joint second place, five firms all said they charged up to £2,000 a day: Boyer, Carter Jonas, Metropolis, Rumball Sedgwick and WYG. A table of the top ten highest fee rates is here.

FEE INCOME

9 Fee income for consultants rose by nine per cent last year. A comparison of the 50 highest-earning firms of 2017/18 that provided equivalent data in last year’s survey shows their aggregate fee income rose from £431 to £471 million. Of those 50 firms, 37 reported a rise, 11 a fall and two no change. The ten highest earners in 2017/18 who also gave figures last year reported a total planning income of £383.6 million, up about ten per cent on their £347.7 million aggregate takings in 2016/17. More

10 Two thirds of respondents' revenue comes from private sector clients. Ten per cent comes from central government departments and agencies, seven per cent from councils and 17 per cent from other public and public-private bodies.

11 The firm that earns the most from central government planning work is Arup, which reports £16.5 million from this source in 2017/18. WYG reports £15.6 million and Atkins £8 million. More

12 Infrastructure planning accounted for 41 per cent of consultants' reported income in 2017/18, compared to 35 per cent in the previous year.

13 Transport planning was responsible for 24 per cent of consultants total reported income in 2017/18. Respondents predict that it will be the fastest growing planning sector next year, with growth of eight per cent.

14 Greenfield housing development is predicted by respondents to be the second biggest growth area for consultancy advice in 2018/19. In 2017/18, it accounted for 18 per cent of the total market for consultancy advice

15 The only sector to see a decline in demand for advice last year was retail, which dropped by one per cent. A similar decline is predicted for next year.


OVERALL PREDICTIONS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT MARKET 

16 Most consultants think the economic climate for development will improve over the next 12 months. 55 per cent of respondents forecast improvement, compared to 31 per cent who did not. 

CONSULTANTS' VIEWS ON PUBLIC SECTOR PERFORMANCE

17 Seven out of ten consultants think local authority plan-making performance is unsatisfactory. Six out of ten think councils' development management performance is unsatisfactory. Nine out of ten agree that a lack of resources for local authority planning departments is a major constraint on local plan production and timely decisions on applications. But two-thirds say that allowing LPAs to increase their application fees has helped to improve the performance of their planning services. Six out of ten say Planning Inspectorate decision-making performance is unsatisfactory. More

18 More consultants (43 per cent) disagree that paid-for pre-application discussions are usually good value for money, than agree that they are good value (33 per cent). Slightly more (33 per cent)n consultants disagree that paid-for Planning Performance Agreements are usually good value for money, compared to 27 per cent who think they are good value.

CONSULTANTS VIEWS ON THE IMPACT OF VARIOUS GOVERNMENT POLICIES 

19 More than twice as many consultants (49 per cent) agree than disagree (21 per cent) that the benefits of permitted development rights extensions in England since 2012 have generally outweighed any harm. More consultants also agree (37 per cent) than disagree (23 per cent) that the introduction of the standard method of calculating housing need will speed up local plan-making. And more consultants agree (28 per cent) than disagree (23%) that the new NPPF's policies on viability should help councils secure higher levels of affordable housing. Almost two-thirds of consultants say that neighbourhood planning has increased residents' ability to resist development

20 More consultants agree (43 per cent) than disagree (35 per cent) that charging appellants fees for planning inquiries would be acceptable in return for a definite decision timetable, as long as they were appropriate to the size of the development and refunded if the appeal were to be successful.

 


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