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Revealed: Poor performers at risk under new planning regime

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More than 70 councils could be at risk of being stripped of their planning powers under revised performance criteria announced by housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell, LGC analysis has found.

The ‘Improving planning performance’ document was published by the Department for Communities & Local Government yesterday. It said councils that fail to meet the new planning performance targets could be bypassed by developers who will have the option of submitting major applications directly to the Planning Inspectorate.

Gavin Barwell

Gavin Barwell

Gavin Barwell

Applications from individual households, however, will still be sent to and determined by local councils regardless of their performance.

The document says the communities secretary will decide in the first quarter of every calendar year whether a local authority should be stripped of its planning powers or have them returned, had a council previously been assessed as underperforming.

Decisions will be based on two years’ data. The first assessment, which will begin in January, will consider the decisions councils have taken between October 2014 and September 2016. Councils are to be assessed separately for the speed and quality of the decisions they take in relation to both major and non-major development.

However, the first assesment under the new rules in 2017 will be based purely on the speed in which they determined applications – at least 50% of major applications will need to be determined within 13 weeks, while at least 65% of non-major applications will need to be determined within eight weeks.

LGC analysis of data supplied by councils to DCLG, which currently goes up to June 2016, has found 31 councils are failing to beat one or the other of those targets. They will need to see an improvement in their performance when the next quarterly statistics are published, due next month, to avoid potential intervention.

From 2018 the performance threshold will be raised so at least 60% of major applications will need to be determined within 13 weeks, while at least 70% of non-major applications will need to be determined within eight weeks.

The quality of the decisions will also be taken into account with councils that have more than 10% of planning decisions overturned at appeal facing intervention.

Currently there are 73 councils at risk of having planning powers stripped for either the speed or quality of their decisions if their performance does not improve before 2018. Five councils – Cotswold DC, Crawley BC, East Devon DC, North Dorset DC, and Oxford City Council – are failing on two measures.

The DCLG document said: “We want to support and work with local authorities to make sure that the planning system is valued, resilient and capable of providing the service that local people and planning applicants expect, and delivering on the increasing challenges being asked of it.

“The performance of local authorities in deciding applications for planning permission is crucial to achieving this objective.”

Where a council’s performance falls below a threshold it will be given the opportunity to make corrections to data, provide clarifications, and set out any exceptional circumstances, the document said.

Should a council fall foul of any thresholds it will be expected to “prepare an action plan addressing areas of weakness” which contributed to its “under-performance” before getting the DCLG to sign it off, the document said. It added councils “should draw upon sector support” when putting action plans together.

To encourage councils to report accurate data, they will be penalised on varying scales should they fail to supply more than two quarters of data in any two year assessment period.

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