Planning Consultancy Survey 2007

The uncertainty surrounding property and development investment has invoked caution among planning consultants yet most see scope for growth, report Bryan Johnston and Paul Carnell.

The development and property markets will come under scrutiny in the next few months as planning consultants look for signals as to how an unpredictable financial climate might affect them.

Most planning firms say they have yet to feel the effect of uncertainties over property values and tighter controls on lending, although some predict changes in the type of work. The complexities of planning procedures, the emphasis on regeneration and sustainability and the underlying demand for millions more homes fuel confidence that projects will continue to come forth.

The long-term upward trend in the planning market continued last year, outstripping consultants' expectations in 19 of the 22 market sectors in the survey. The view is that demand for planning services overall grew by 20 per cent in 2006-07, against a prediction of 14 per cent in last year's survey (Planning, 17 November 2006, p15).

Based on returns from 41 firms, the view this September was that the market will again grow by 14 per cent during 2007-08. Consultants were slightly less optimistic about their own firm's fee income expectations, producing an average growth prediction of around 12 per cent.

Despite the turmoil that has descended on the funding and investment sector in the past three months, few firms see any reason to revise their predictions drastically downwards just yet. Many leading players still have ambitious plans for expansion and diversification, citing chronic skills shortages as the main drag on further growth.

Crucially, consultants remain optimistic that major residential and housing-led mixed-use projects already on the drawing board will forge ahead, and that developers and landowners will continue to press the case for inclusion of further sites in regional spatial strategies, local development frameworks or regeneration programmes. The frontloaded system means that developers cannot afford to downscale their involvement.

On the other side of the fence, public bodies are seeking advice and support on issues such as surplus land disposal, site potential, viability, development impact, case processing and the evidence base for planning exercises. Whatever happens in the commercial markets, planning's longer-term horizons should see the sector through.

The survey was carried out and responses were analysed by Camargue (Cheltenham) Ltd.

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