The government’s drive to process all planning applications in 13 weeks is looking doubtful after its own figures showed the system is getting slower

The ODPM’s target is for 85% of local authorities to process 60% of major applications in 13 weeks by 31 March 2006. According to the ODPM’s figures, in the year ended 30 June 2004, they were getting through 52% of applications. But in the past two quarters this figure has fallen to 32%.

Deputy prime minister John Prescott is relying on a speedier planning and appeals system to help to deliver 200,000 extra houses in the South-east by 2016.

The ODPM’s own autumn performance report, which came out last Friday, describes the fall in the number of processed planning applications as a “slight stalling”.

It said: “For the past two quarters, 32% of major applications have been decided within the 13-week period. We are monitoring the situation closely.”

One housing expert described the figures as “disastrous”, and added that it fitted in with general industry complaints that the ODPM’s performance targets were actually having an adverse effect.

He said: “The principal effect of the ODPM performance targets has been an increase in the rejection of applications. This has led to an increase in appeals and now that has ground to a halt: a year to get an appeal date and another year for a decision are being quoted.”

The ODPM's targets have led to an increase in the rejection of applications

Housing expert

He added that planners were rejecting applications if they could not be decided in 13 weeks, for fear of missing out on a slice of the government’s £330m planning delivery grant.

The government admitted in October that because of the clogged-up system, there had been a 23% increase in planning appeals in the six months to 30 September 2004 compared with the previous year.

The ODPM is taking on an extra 29 consultant planning inspectors and has given the planning inspectorate an extra £1m this year. But in a written response to a Commons question in October, Keith Hill, minister for housing and planning, admitted the appeals process was getting longer: “It is likely that over the year as a whole the proportion of appeals determined within 30 weeks will reduce.”

The ODPM said it was trying to solve the problem through its planning delivery grant and a bursary scheme for planning graduates, but admitted there was work still to do on speeding up the system.

A spokesperson said: “Because of the incentivised nature of the planning delivery grant, we are looking at authorities who have above average rates of appeals that go against them.”