BPF warns that increasing threshold for planning designations risks encouraging bad practice

Increasing the threshold for putting local authorities into special measures could produce perverse incentives and lead to adverse consequences for the planning system, warns the British Property Federation (BPF).

Proposals from DCLG in its ‘Planning Performance and Planning Contributions’ consultation which closed on Sunday suggest that the threshold for designation should be raised to 40% or fewer decisions made on time, up from 30%.

Currently, local authorities who do not reach this limit of approvals are placed into special measures, whereby developers are allowed bypass the local authority and submit applications directly to the Planning Inspectorate. While the commitment to speeding up the planning system is welcome, the BPF is concerned that this approach will hinder the performance of under-performing authorities even further.

In its response to the consultation the BPF recommends that a more beneficial approach would be to introduce a ‘yellow card system’. This would act as a warning for underperforming local authorities and would provide them with a grace period in which to improve performance before being placed into special measures.

It notes that other unforeseen consequences which could arise as a result of increasing the threshold could include the withdrawal and resubmission of applications when changes need to be made, more protracted pre-application periods and damaging relationships between developers and local authorities.

Liz Peace, Chief Executive of the British Property Federation, commented:

“As shown by recent research from the Centre for Housing and Planning Research at Cambridge University, pressure to meet planning performance targets has forced some local authorities to ask developers to re-submit applications when decisions have not been made in time. It is clear that introducing harsher deadlines does not encourage best practice, so we would encourage the government to consider introducing a ‘warning’ system as an intermediary.

“Further to this we recommend that government focuses on the lack of resources and skills that is currently hampering so many planning departments. Dealing with these problems would have much more positive impact on the speed and quality of planning decisions without the need for sanctions.”