Planning Changes Vital To Economy

Managing Director, Stephen Salloway suggests that radical changes to the Planning System are needed to boost our economy.

Next week, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond MP, will deliver his inaugural Autumn Statement, also the first since the Brexit vote.  I doubt we will see the harsh rhetoric of austerity promised by the previous incumbent of No. 11 in his failed attempt to buy remain votes through scaremongering. Indeed, judging by remarks from political and economic commentators, the likely message is one of loosening the constricting fiscal belt - with an emphasis on infrastructure investment. This would be good news for the construction and development industry.

But what does investment in infrastructure mean, and more importantly when will it happen?  Major national projects such as HS2 and Heathrow's third runway have been on the agenda for years without yet getting 'on site'.  The economic benefits derived from speeding up the movement of goods and people through investment in the transport network are clear to see.  Indeed, research carried out by The Centre for Economics and Business Research suggests that infrastructure delays are costing the UK economy £2bn per month.

Mr. Hammond might also raise the perennial problem of housing shortage.  In this instance, more funding for localized infrastructure projects led by Local Economic Partnerships will help bring land forward for development.  Commercial and industrial development should also be encouraged through public investment.  A prime example is Derby City Council's bid for funding to redevelop the Assembly Rooms and Becketwell – crucial to the vitality of the City-Centre and its social infrastructure. Funding is obviously the ultimate component but economic output can be expedited if delivery timescales are cut. 

Finding the money is one thing but let's focus more on timeframes.  I believe we can speed up the development process through streamlining regulation - particularly Town Planning.  Representing the real estate market I'm in the daily business of expediting and promoting well founded, logical property decisions. However, such decisions are more and more being tempered by regulation, which is stifling much needed post-Brexit growth.  

Regulation pre and post planning permission is a drag, delaying development starts for months and in some instances years.  Indeed, week in, week out I hear commentary from developer and land-owner clients alike that the planning system has become unduly burdensome with a particular criticism of the pre-approval 'consultee' process and the pre-start conditions.    

When a planning application is submitted, the applicant must prepare numerous reports – a costly and time-consuming process.  This information assists the Local Planning Authority (LPA) assess the application but the LPA is then required to consult a number of statutory bodies like Severn Trent or the Environment Agency. There are up to 26 statutory consultees!  These bodies give feedback on the application, often recommending that conditions are applied if permission is to be granted. Some of these conditions need to be discharged before development can commence so, even when planning permission has been granted, development cannot begin. 

Without getting into the detail of this, the result can be planning permissions with over 30 conditions attached! LPA's are reluctant to step on the toes of statutory consultees, generally adhering to their suggested conditions verbatim.  Some of these can be duplications (the same from different consultees) and many could really have been dealt with as part of the application process. Conditions seem a safeguard process which many in the property development community feel is unnecessary overkill - a 'second bite of the cherry' if you will.

I appreciate that LPA's are having difficulties juggling much reduced budgets whilst significant pressure is being imposed on them to deliver housing targets and meet targets for determining applications, but little resource appears targeted on the discharge of these pre-start conditions. The result being, the post approval regime is as much a hurdle as obtaining the permission in the first place.

As a case in point, a client developer was recently granted planning permission for a 200-house development to the delight of the LPA who counted the houses toward their much needed 5 year supply.  However, more than a year after of planning permission the developer is yet to put a 'spade in the ground' because statutory consultees remain unsatisfied. Equally alarmingly, perhaps, are the actions of some industrial developers who are beginning to reject new development in favour of refurbishment.  Surely this indicates that the process is flawed and needs urgent review.

What I would like to see is a much streamlined process which might include:

  • Reducing the number of consultees and incorporating as much 'consultation' as possible in the Local Development Plan (LDP) land allocation stage rather than at the planning application stage;
  • LDP's to provide full planning strategies approved by Local Council Members and incorporate general design criteria allowing for Simplified Planning Zones to be created for all forms of development with deemed approval for alterations;
  • No further Council Member involvement post LDP adoption - Planning Officers should be empowered to determine applications in accordance with the LDP as their professional designation affords but with an appeal process;
  • The same time limits should apply for determining a planning application but the application should not be considered determined until the pre-start conditions have been satisfied.

It is not easy to bring about radical change to entrenched regulation but the economic benefits could be massive.  So, how about it Mr. Hammond?  Why not announce that your colleagues in DCLG will undertake a root and branch review of the planning system with the intention to remove the drag, shorten timescales and give the UK economy a huge boost?

Stephen Salloway
Contact Details:
Tel 01332 298000

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