The councils that determined the fewest applications within government time limits up to June 2019

Just six local authorities are now below the government's 'special measures' threshold for the proportion of decisions made within the statutory timescales, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Barrow-in-Furness Town Hall, Cumbria. Pic: Gerald Massey,
Barrow-in-Furness Town Hall, Cumbria. Pic: Gerald Massey,

Under the special measures programme, councils can have planning decisions taken out of their hands and dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate if they fall below specified thresholds for the speed and quality of their decision making.

Authorities that decide fewer than 60 per cent of major applications within the statutory deadline of 13 weeks or 70 per cent of non-major applications within the eight-week deadline face the sanction.

However, no council has been penalised under the initiative since January 2015, despite many falling under the sanction thresholds.

Last month, the government updated its figures showing how many major and non-major decisions that each English local planning authority determined within the prescribed timescales in the two years up to June 2019.

It shows that a total of six councils fall below the thresholds in two of the three categories measured - Barrow-in-Furness, Wirral, and Craven for major district matters decisions; and Ealing, Wakefield and Somerset for major county matters decisions. In the third category, non-major district matters decisions, no authority was below the threshold.

In the previous quarter's data, covering the two years up to March 2019, a total of eight councils fell below the three thresholds for speed of determination.

For the quarter before that, covering the two years up to December 2018, ten councils fell below the thresholds.

The latest data for major district decisions shows that Barrow-in-Furness, Wirral and Craven are below the 60 per cent threshold (see below). 

Barrow-in-Furness Council has become the worst-performing authority in this category, though it only determined four major applications in the two-year period, of which half were outside the 13-week deadline.

Wirral and Craven are just below the 60 per cent threshold, having determined 88 and 52 major applications respectively.

In August, a Wirral Council spokesman told Planning that its performance on how quickly it is determining major applications had been improving: "Over the last year the council has improved processes and recruited additional planning staff."

For 'county matters' major application decisions, which covers mineral and waste development, Ealing and Wakefield councils remain below the threshold (see below).

However, both authorities only dealt with one ‘county matters’ major application each over the two-year period.

They are joined below the threshold by Somerset County Council, which determined 28 applications. 

For non-major decisions (see below), no authorities are below the 70 per cent threshold in the most recent statistics, compared to three in the last quarter.

Craven remains the worst-performing authority but has reached the 70 per cent eight-week determination benchmark, having made 1,090 non-major decisions over the period.

In December 2018, the MHCLG announced that the special measures programme would continue until 2020.

It said 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, for quality of decision-making, which measures the proportion of decisions overturned at appeal, the assessment period would be between April 2016 and March 2018. The data for quality of decision-making has not been updated since the last quarter's figures were published in July.

However, no designation decisions have been made yet this year.

Analysis by Planning of the impact of the special measures regime on speed of decision-making can be found here.

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