With applications increasingly trapped in the system and with the delivery of development projects stalling as a result, does the government’s proposed 20% increase in planning application fees really go far enough?
Between 2010 and 2015, councils have had their budgets slashed and planning departments have suffered. RTPI reported a staggering 37% drop in forward planning staff and a 29% drop in development control staff during this period.
It is no surprise that as well as being unable to cope with a growing number of applications, the cuts have had a devastating impact on the quality of assessment and decision making at local level.
We alone, have had a number of applications for development sites successfully determined at appeal as a result of under resourced planning departments or poor decision making due to a lack of expertise, experience and training. The presumption in many local planning departments seems to not favour reasonable levels of redevelopment.
Small development plots are the bread and butter for many SME’s and the planning delays that are currently being experienced make the majority of redevelopment opportunities financially unviable.
Fundamental barriers to entry
The housing white paper does propose further additional funding, but this is directed to local planning authorities to tackle applications for “ambitious authorities in areas of high housing need”, of which the government has made £25m available.
Although these measures are to be welcomed, they are unlikely to address the fundamental barriers many housebuilders like us are facing at a local level and undermines the Government’s plans to support SMEs.
When allocating stretched planning resources, there is a risk this measure will push smaller sites by smaller developers down the list of priorities.
To drive through the radical improvements in the planning system that are needed to eradicate the backlog, more central Government funding earmarked for planning departments is required. In the short-term this will be an additional burden on government spending.
However, as more homes are built, councils will be able to increase their council tax income, helping to offset central Government funding. But, above all, a commitment to expand planning capacity will help speed up the delivery of new homes to the benefit of all.