Home    //    News    //    2016 Brings Proposals To Change The Planning System
2016 Brings Proposals To Change The Planning System

2016 Brings Proposals To Change The Planning System

8th January 2016

Planning within the UK seems to have become a hot topic in the early part of 2016 which is not surprising given the desire to tackle the housing crisis and the resurgence in the property market.

The Estates Gazette has reported that the government has tabled proposals to partially privatise the planning system, allowing developers to choose who processes their application. The new clauses were added to the Housing and Planning Bill, which was recently debated by ministers. In “pilot schemes” chosen by the secretary of state, developers would be able to select designated alternative providers to process their applications. Elected councillors would maintain the power to approve or reject planning applications. Housing minister Brandon Lewis said: “Introducing choice for the applicant enables them to shop around for the services that best meet their needs. It will enable innovation in service provision, bringing new resources into the planning system and driving down costs while improving performance.” The providers would be able to set planning fees, with the Secretary of State holding powers to intervene if he believed fees were too high.

As would be expected is not surprising that the measures were criticised by Labour ministers, including Helen Hayes, who said they undermined local planning departments. She said: “The new clause introduces the outsourcing of planning applications. It is potentially very damaging. It weakens the accountability of local planning services and removes with one hand the fees that the government are enabling local authorities to raise with another. Fundamentally, it is a solution to a symptom of the problem of the disproportionate effect of local government cuts on planning departments. This symptom will be alleviated by the proper resourcing that a new system of fees will facilitate. I therefore urge the government to rethink this proposal, which simply undermines local planning departments.

Sibley Pares acknowledge that currently the system is not functioning effectively and needs reform but consider that  this proposal could further complicate matters and prevent a cohesive planning policy locally.  A proposal by the Local Government Association could further complicate matters if implemented. The study  carried out by industry experts Glenigan, shows the total of unimplemented planning permissions was 381,390. The LGA said that the figures underline the need for councils to be able to invest in building more homes and also for the skills shortage affecting the construction industry to be addressed. Council leaders also want powers to charge developers full council tax for every unbuilt development from the point that the original planning permission expires.

The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, also said:

  • Developers are taking longer to complete work on site. It now takes 32 months, on average, from sites receiving planning permission to building work being completed – 12 months longer than in 2007/8
  • The number of planning applications being granted planning permission in 2014/15 was 212,468 - this is up from 187,605 in 2007/08 and is higher than all previous years
  • Councils still approve nine in every 10 applications
  • While the construction industry's forecasted annual recruitment need is up 54 per cent from 2013, there are 10,000 fewer construction qualifications being awarded by colleges, apprenticeships and universities
  • There were 58 per cent fewer completed construction apprenticeships last year than in 2009.

Cllr Peter Box, LGA Housing spokesman, commented: "These figures conclusively prove that the planning system is not a barrier to house building. In fact the opposite is true, councils are approving almost half a million more houses than are being built, and this gap is increasing.

"While private developers have a key role in solving our chronic housing shortage, they cannot build the 230,000 needed each year on their own. To tackle the new homes backlog and to get Britain building again, councils must have the power to invest in building new homes and to force developers to build homes more quickly.

"Skills is the greatest barrier to building, not planning. If we are to see the homes desperately needed across the country built and jobs and apprenticeships created, councils must be given a leading role to tackle our growing construction skills shortage, which the industry says is one of the greatest barriers to building.

"Devolving careers advice, post-16 and adult skills budgets and powers to local areas would allow councils, schools, colleges and employers to work together to help unemployed residents and young people develop the vital skills to build. New homes are badly-needed and councils want to get on with the job of building them. If we are to see a genuine end to our housing crisis we have to be given the powers to get on with it."

Sarah Raggett, Partner of Sibley Pares LLP, states that: “Clearly this might address the criticism levelled at the Planning Departments and supports the request for increased fees and funding for these departments which is to be expected from the LGA, but  in my opinion a penalty system will not resolve the issue:  if anything it may hamper supply  and further delay the delivery of housing. Developers will need to be sure of funding if they are not to accrue costs for potential but financially unviable schemes.”

No doubt this topic will be the subject of much debate in the construction, housing and property industries.