It is wishful thinking to believe the latest financial incentives announced on Wednesday will suddenly speed up planning decisions
The chancellor’s play for planning reform on Wednesday this week was underwhelming. Paraphrasing the statement; the view from the government is to allow local authorities to recover the full costs of major business applications in return for being required to meet guaranteed faster timelines. If councils fail to meet those timelines, the fees would be refunded automatically, and the application would be processed free of charge.
This is not a new idea – it has been bouncing around for years and it seems that the government wants to introduce it in 2024, despite planning fees going up in December, to claim that local planning authorities will be properly resourced (by the private sector).
The government has left us with more questions than answers. When the chancellor and his crew put together the policy announcement what did they have in mind? What is the meaning behind their choice of words such as ’”full costs” and “major business applications”? With “full costs” - are they attempting a profit-making exercise? Or just want councils to cover their costs? What role do smaller sites or developers have in “major business applications”?
Fundamentally, what about talent, investment, and experience in the public sector planning sphere?
Could local authorities opt out? Perhaps they could, if they felt that they could not meet the timescales that they would be required to meet on account of, for example, statutory consultees being slow themselves to respond as part of the planning consultation exercise once an application has been received.
Will there be get out clauses for councils where they can blame the lack of statutory consultee responses which means that they cannot proceed with the application on the faster timescale so you can’t get your money back anyway.
Autumn Statement 2023 coverage
Fundamentally, what about talent, investment, and experience in the public sector planning sphere? This has been knocked about, disregarded and left to wither on the vine. A planning reform agenda which simply relies upon the private sector paying more money which cannot guarantee planning officers being in-post to deliver what is expected of them is a reform agenda that lacks any common sense.
We all know that the creation of and enhancement of growth comes about through development and infrastructure. We also know that one of the problems that we all face in the industry is the shortage of a skilled and unskilled workforce.
This suggested planning reform, relies heavily upon a bit of football parlance – “get bodies in the box” to score goals, to get stuff done. Pouring more money into the planning system without having all the players on the field and ready to play the game makes little sense.
The government aims to make these changes some time in 2024 – in the middle of an election cycle where there may be a change in government. Which means the change may not come about at all. The development boom that the country needs and that the industry wants to deliver deserves far far better than this.
Alistair Watson, partner and head of UK planning and environment, Taylor Wessing