Updated May 7, 2024

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"Realistic goals" needed to speed up planning services

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has questioned the proposal for an accelerated planning system in England, which argues for more realistic goals and better local authority capacity.

In March, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) began consulting on proposals that intend to provide "greater certainty" to applicants, and enable delivery partners to bring forward much-needed housing, commercial and infrastructure development at a greater pace.

The consultation noted that the statutory time limit to decide major planning applications is 13 weeks, or 16 weeks where an application is subject to an environmental impact assessment, but that these time periods are not met in most cases.

The consultation asked whether an accelerated planning service should have a ten-week statutory time limit for the determination of eligible applications.

In response to the consultation the RTPI highlights that currently the average time to determine a major planning application is approximately 28 weeks, stating that a "timeline of 10 weeks is probably much too ambitious".

Instead the RTPI argues that the current statutory decision-making period of 13 weeks should apply to applications under the accelerated planning service which "would still represent a significant improvement on average decision-making times, and would be more realistic and achievable for all parties, in part because LPAs’ [local planning authorities’] planning services are already geared towards delivering to this timescale where possible".

The response states that if the local planning authorities can "consistently" meet this target, it may be reasonable for the government to tighten the time limit further.

The RTPI suggested coupling a:

  • 13-week target with careful monitoring to avoid disruptions to other application types;
  • national delegation scheme to empower planning officers; and
  • ringfencing of planning fees to safeguard the additional income generated by planning services.

Without these changes, measures could lead to an increase in costly appeals, a net loss of planning resources and a net increase in the time it takes for development to begin.

The response also sets out the RTPI's support for the government's drive to accelerate the planning system, and particularly to introduce planning application fees that approach cost recovery, which is something the RTPI has consistently argued for and strongly supports.

Nevertheless the RTPI is "less certain about [...] whether these proposals will enable LPAs to make the kinds of systemic, sustained improvements to their whole services that DLUHC want to see".

Victoria Hills, Chief Executive at the RTPI, said: "Ministers have rightly acknowledged that the confidence of both businesses and the public in our planning system hinges on councils’ ability to adequately fund the services they provide".

"However, we believe that high expectations alone may not lead to the improvements that businesses and communities want. Continued investment in much needed public services is what is needed to deliver accelerated outcomes".

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