MHCLG announces special measures programme to continue up to 2020

The government has announced that it will continue its 'special measures' programme, which examines the planning performance of local authorities, up until 2020, with the assessment criteria remaining unchanged.

The MHCLG offices in central London
The MHCLG offices in central London

Under the special measures policy, developers can bypass authorities designated as under-performing in their decision-making and submit applications directly to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS).

The policy was introduced in 2013 by former planning minister Nick Boles and involves the government examining local authority performance in deciding on applications for major development and minor development within proscribed timescales. It also looks at the quality of decision making - meaning the proportion of decisions that are overturned on appeal - for both major and minor applications.

In 2016, the then Department for Communities and Local Government announced that local planning authorities that decide fewer than 60 per cent of major applications on time would face special measures, while this threshold would be 70 per cent for minor applications.

The threshold for quality of decision-making would be 10 per cent of decisions overturned at appeal for both major applications and minor applications, the department said.

Last week, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government updated its Improving Planning Performance: Criteria for Designation document which sets out its criteria for designation and the the timeframes that will be used when considering designations.

The previous document, which was updated in 2016, set out the two-year assessment periods to be used for designation decisions in 2017 and 2018.

The new document states that designation decisions in the first quarter of 2019 for speed of decision-making would consider the two-year timeframe between October 2016 and September 2018. Meanwhile, decisions in 2020 would be based on the period between October 2017 and September 2019.

For quality of decision-making, the two assessment periods would be April 2016 to March 2018 and April 2017 to March 2019. 

The threshold criteria would remain unchanged for both speed and quality, the document says.

An explanatory note accompanying the document states: "The most recent statistics indicate that the designation regime introduced in the 2013 Act has been effective in speeding up applications for major development. 87 per cent of major applications were determined on time in April to June 2018, compared with 57 per cent in July to September 2012, the quarter in which the designation regime was first announced. This is despite budget pressures and an increase in planning applications."

It adds: "We expect a continued improvement in the speed and quality of decisions on applications for major and non-major development. This is likely to have a beneficial impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies as their applications for development are likely to be processed more quickly with the quality of decision assured, resulting in greater certainty for applicants."

In July, Planning revealed that 18 councils under the performance benchmarks could escape being placed in special measures this year after the government said it had not yet decided whether to go ahead with designating any local authorities in 2018.

No councils have been designated since then and none since January 2015. Only three have been designated in total since the programme began in 2013 - Blaby District Council, Trafford Council and Bromsgrove District Council.

The initial thresholds for designating authorities as under-performing have become more stringent since the policy was introduced.

Initially, authorities faced being placed in special measures in instances where just 65 per cent of non-major development applications were determined on time and 50 per cent for major. The benchmark for quality of decision-making was 20 per cent of major decisions overturned on appeal.

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