There remains a general perception among the public and within some planning authorities — I worked at three of them — that developers have infinite pots of money to throw at projects and that planning delays are part and parcel of the game.
The reality, however, is that SME developers do not have money to waste on planning delays. The current landscape, with the increasing cost of going through the planning process, spiralling build costs, increased competition and a slowing London sales market, means that every penny and second count, particularly for SME developers, who collectively are the key to solving our housing shortage.
Having now spent considerable time in the private sector working for an SME, my view is that most junior council planners would benefit from work experience at a private sector company. On the one hand, they are fresh out of university, well-read and clued up on planning case law, but on the other, they fundamentally lack a true understanding of how the organisations behind the applications they are processing operate.
This work experience would open their eyes to budgets, land appraisals, stakeholders and how a seemingly simple delay in planning can be hugely detrimental to a company’s growth and ability to deliver new homes. It would provide invaluable knowledge and perspective that could be taken back to the planning departments, heralding a more joined-up approach.
On one of my recent projects, in Crimscott Street, Bermondsey, the planning officer rapidly gained an understanding of the commercial aspect of making a decision and, although still delayed, the scenario played out better than on other projects I had experienced.
There is also a case for widening the planning consultation process, which is isolated to just the immediate neighbourhood affected and generally acts as a brake on development. If we are to successfully plan for the future, as the new London Plan dictates, we should not only consider current residents but also potential future residents. We plan for the future with things such as flood risk, energy usage and climate change, yet we don’t consult those who want to live in an area but can’t afford to unless housing delivery increases significantly.
Ultimately, councils should adopt a more collaborative approach and look at how they can work more closely with developers, perhaps through cross-sector steering groups, better education and a wider roll-out of the planning performance agreements. After all, we have the same interest in delivering the best housing possible as quickly as possible.