One measure expected in the returning chancellor’s Budget on 8 July is further, significant cutbacks to local authority funding.
Cuts to planning departments are a curb on growth and development rather than a move towards efficiency. Furthermore, these changes are likely to hit at a time when volumes of planning applications are increasing. So how are local authorities going to keep up?
One answer may be planning performance agreements (PPAs). Introduced in 2008 as a project management tool, they can be used by local planning authorities (LPA) and applicants to agree timescales, actions and resources for handling applications.
PPAs are intended to cover pre-application and post-submission stages through to planning permission. A fee is payable to the council, allowing it to invest in the extra resources needed to meet the terms of the agreement, crucially without committing it to a particular outcome.
These agreements encourage joint working and can be useful for bringing other parties, such as statutory consultees, into the discussions early in the process, helping to flush out and resolve issues before the application is submitted. They are also good for identifying the right approach to community engagement.
Deciding the content of a PPA for a complex planning application can be a relatively time-consuming exercise in itself, but as both LPAs and applicants become more used to them, more standardised formats are being set up. The first step is to establish an early dialogue with council officers and negotiate the content and fee.
PPA fees are open to discussion and agreement. They need to be reasonable, so they are not seen to have any implications on the decision itself, and are only to be used for additional capacity that is genuinely required to ensure a timely and effective service.
A further advantage is that by entering into a PPA before an application is submitted, councils are exempt from the statutory time limit for determination. This can actually provide a greater degree of certainty to the applicant on when a decision can be expected from early on in the process, targeting a specific committee and allowing time for any issues to be worked through as positively as possible beforehand.
Once signed, PPAs are meant to be a ‘memorandum of understanding’; they are not intended to be a legally binding contract, although could be set up in this way if parties wish. It is also worth noting that they could be available for members of the public to view, so transparency and proportionality are key.
Phil Villars is managing director at Indigo Planning