Government initiatives to speed up the planning system are failing, the chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts said today.

Edward Leigh MP, chair of the committee which scrutinises the government’s public expenditure, said that the new system, which has cost £68m a year, is encouraging local authorities to reject planning applications in order to meet planning targets.

His comments follow a report by the National Audit Office that shows on average it takes more than 25 weeks to approve a major residential planning applications, compared to a target time of 13 weeks.

‘The Department for Communities and Local Government has launched a programme, at a cost of almost £70 million a year, to speed up the handling of planning applications by local authorities,’ said Leigh.

‘It does not seem to be working very well.

‘The reality is that they (local authorities) can go a long way towards meeting the target simply by rejecting applications rather than approving them.

‘So the system is biased towards rejection of applications and, for those schemes that are approved, the whole process takes too long.’

The NAO report showed that the proportion of decisions made within the 13 week had doubled from the year 2002-2003 to 2007-2008.

It also said that 98% of rejected applications were determined within the timeframe, compared with 48% of approved applications.