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Planning has seen the greatest swings

Richard Blyth
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Variations may be down to places with city regions ploughing more into development, says the Royal Town Planning Institute’s head of policy

After years of cuts, it is encouraging to see overall spending on planning and development rising by around the rate of inflation.

Yet planning and development is a broad category and individual planning departments’ statutory functions of development management and plan making are not necessarily sufficiently resourced to cater for an upswing in development activity or to produce strong spatial plans to enable new homes and jobs.

The regional breakdown is subject to the perils of definition. Unsurprisingly, London has a spend of about 60% above the weighted regional average (meaning average of all regions excluding the north-east, which is the only region with a substantially different population size) whereas the south-west has only 70% of the average.

Regions with increasingly strong city regional governance, which arguably would strengthen planning, such as the north west and Yorkshire and the Humber, appear to have greater resources.

 2014-15 (£m)Change (%)2014-15 (£/head)
South-east excluding London173↓2.320
Greater London244↑20.129
East of England124↓12.621
East Midlands105↓6.023
North-east59↓13.123
North-west189↑0.427
South-west106↓16.120
West Midlands109↑1.419
Yorkshire & the Humber169↑18.232
England1,276↑0.924

 

We need to drill down to see whether, where there are increased budgets, the additional resources are the result of incoming generating initiatives, such as planning performance agreements with developers, introduction of fees for pre-application discussion and the like.

Our private sector members have been telling us for some time that their businesses are being affected by a lack of capacity generally and of experienced managers in some local authority departments in particular.

While no one likes to pay more, initiatives that result in a faster and more responsive service are generally welcomed.

We may be seeing a shift in how planning departments are funded, but we need more detail to say with any certainty that this is happening. This is an area the RTPI hopes to explore in a forthcoming paper on planning and governance.

In unitary councils since the abolition of ringfencing, planning is competing with higher-profile areas such as social services for funding.

It is understandable why planning loses out, but councils may be missing a trick. As our recent publications the Value of Planning and Fostering Economic Growth demonstrate, appropriately resourced and properly focused departments engaged in positive public sector planning are key to local growth. 

Good planning departments don’t just service planning applications, they create economically successful places.

The more forward-thinking councils appreciate this and have used the financial imperative to save money as an opportunity to reconfigure their planning departments, investing to save. 

Richard Blyth, head of policy, Royal Town Planning Institute

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