Communities secretary Eric Pickles has announced a crackdown on “poorly performing” planning authorities and handed developers an invitation to appeal against the burden of providing affordable homes.
Announcing widely trailed proposals to boost homebuilding and construction, Mr Pickles said the government would act when there are “clear failures in performance” on planning decisions.
Local authorities that are deemed to have “a track record of consistently poor performance in the speed or quality of its decisions” will see the responsibility for judging applications handed to the Planning Inspectorate – a quango reporting to the Department for Communities & Local Government.
In addition, all councils will face more onerous reporting standards on their performance on planning. Mr Pickles said his department would work with the LGA to increase the use of ‘planning performance agreements’ for major schemes which commit applicants and planning authorities to a clear timetable for determining proposals.
Mr Pickles also built on proposals announced last month to send troubleshooters into councils to renegotiate developments that had stalled due to the proportion of affordable housing that had previously been agreed since April 2010. Legislation to be introduced early next year will allow any developer to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate if it believes a site is unviable due to the number of affordable homes. The inspectorate will decide how many affordable homes would need to be removed from section 106 agreements for the site to be viable “in current economic conditions”. This new agreement would stay in place for three years.
“We would encourage councils to take the opportunity before legislation comes into effect to seek negotiated solutions where possible,” Mr Pickles said.
Legislation to allow developers to renegotiate non-viable s106 agreements entered into before April 2010 would also be considered he said.
The LGA had earlier sought to pre-empt the announcement, releasing figures which showed the notion of poor performance by planning authorities was “a myth”.
Almost 400,000 homes have been granted planning permission but are incomplete, with building work yet to start on more than half, the association claimed.
It claimed its research showed councils were more positive than ever towards development, with planning applications at a 10-year high last year.
Research by construction analyst Glenigan showed there were 399,816 unbuilt homes with planning permission as of 31 December 2011. Construction had yet to start on 52% of these.
LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell (Con) said with 87% of planning applications approved in 2011-12, the figures “prove that local authorities are overwhelmingly saying ‘yes’ to new development and should finally lay to rest the myth that the lack of new homes being built is the fault of the planning system”.
And with the time taken by developers to complete work on site increasing by several months since the credit crunch, the LGA claimed it would take three and a quarter years for the backlog to be cleared.
“To get Britain building again we need to address the lack of liquidity in the finance market and tackle the shortage of mortgages for struggling first-time buyers,” Sir Merrick said. “The planning system has been massively reformed under this government and it is clear that unlocking frustrated demand, not increasing supply, is now the most urgent problem in the housing market today.
“The government should relax the restrictions on council borrowing so that they can pay for the construction of new homes and upgrade their existing properties, improving standards and bringing unusable properties back into use.”