The Local Government Association is trying to persuade the government to do a deal to avert a threat to take over local plan making in councils where this has proven slow.
On Monday prime minister David Cameron said that “councils have a key role to play in [housing provision] by drawing up their own local plans for new homes by 2017.
Speaking ahead of yesterday’s publication of the Housing and Planning Bill, Mr Cameron said: “But if they fail to act, we’ll work with local people to produce a plan for them.”
An accompanying government statement, based on statistics from last month, said 82% of councils had published local plans but only 65% had fully adopted them, and 18% lacked an up-to-date plan.
The plans must go through a convoluted process of local preparation and approval by a planning inspector, which councils have complained is costly in staff time and can by stymied by unpredictable objections from inspectors.
LGA chair Lord Porter (Con) said: “We are talking to government about us getting councils’ fingers out and them removing barriers and obstacles on their side.
“The process of approving plans is far too lengthy and the planning inspectors are too ready with individual and inconsistent interpretations. There are still conversations going on between us about how to do this.”
Planning Officers Society president Stewart Murray told LGC the process was “very end-loaded”.
He said: “You can go through two or three years of plan making and then the inspector finds a fault in the process and you have to go back to the start not just back to where you correct that flaw. If the government changes that it would be helpful”.
However, he said the main issue with producing local plans was a lack of capacity due to the heavy cuts the planning professions had experienced in many councils.
Mr Murray said the idea of government intervention was “worrying” and pointed out that if ministers took over a local plan they would have to appoint either private sector consultants or a neighbouring council.
The bill says the planning authority must reimburse the government for an costs associated with completing the local plan.
Glen Bramley, professor of urban studies at Heriot-Watt University, said the idea of taking plans away from councils was the latest in “a series of ill thought out measures that will make things worse”, caused by ministerial panic over low house building levels.
He said: “The problem is that [former communities secretary] Eric Pickles created chaos by abolishing regional planning and top down targets and left thousands of nimby, mainly Tory, councillors to set low house building targets and everything since then has been rowing back from that disastrous decision.”