The planning system, and its downfalls, has become a common topic at cabinet meetings and in opinion pages. The rule book is being tweaked, favourably, yet a planning-related solution to substantially boost housing delivery still seems out of reach.
It has been positive to see Homes England committing serious funds to Local Authority planning teams, with a view to bolstering their operations, but the struggle to reach a determined planning application is as challenging as ever.
Many planning applications miss the statutory planning deadline clearly laid out by the government. Applications can run to well over a year before approval, regardless of size. In extreme examples, projects of just two dwellings have taken two years to be pushed through planning; a process the government’s believes should take just eight weeks. These are simple cases which continue to be drawn out.
Well known obstacles remain. Often the scale of the planning exercise is not considered with any proportionality, with Local Authorities requiring more and more additional detail. Supplementary consultancy reports are often required for further consultation. S106 agreements can take well over a year to negotiate.
The GLA, Bristol City Council and other authorities have recognised the problem and are seeking to fast-track schemes that deliver on key local policy objectives, such as proposals that meet a desired number of affordable dwellings. However, this could prove to be a very resource hungry process if it takes grip at more authorities across the country.
One solution is to allow developers to privately fund a dedicated planning officer to oversee their projects. In general, developers are happy to self-fund planning applications to progress more quickly. Facilitating this would speed up the delivery of planning permissions and remove ambiguity from the process. In doing so it will ensure the delivery of the quality new homes our country so badly needs.
We have a pressing need to deliver new homes in our country and not until significant changes to resourcing is made will we make real progress towards allowing the system work as designed. Our industry is ready and waiting to build; let’s support them with the appropriate planning resource.