Local authorities are putting pressure on developers to withdraw planning applications to meet government targets, a law firm has warned.

EMW Picton Howell said it had seen a 63% increase in planning applications withdrawn over the last six years.

It said this could be because local authority planning departments are pressuring developers to do so so the planners can meet time limits for determining applications.

The government brought in targets for local authorities to make decisions on planning applications in 2002.

The government performance targets require that at least 60% of major planning applications be processed within 12 weeks.

Since 2002 the law firm said the amount of planning applications being 'withdrawn, called in or turned away' had gone up from 5.1% of all applications in 2001/2 to 8.3% in 2007/8, an increase of 63%. It said that even the proportion of applications rejected or withdrawn has continued to increase.

Giles Ferin, planning specialist at EMW Picton Howell, said: 'These figures fuel suspicions that local authorities are requiring developers to withdraw planning applications just so that they can meet their performance targets.

'If this is the case then it wouldn’t be the first time that public sector targets have created perverse and undesirable outcomes.'