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Streamlining planning to accelerate growth


The Government has announced a consultation on an ‘Accelerated Planning System’; which plans to fast-track the process for commercial planning applications (over 1,000 sqm of floorspace) as well as eligible mixed-use development.

The proposed changes are all part of the Government’s attempts to utilise the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) to promote greater certainty for applicants, to bring forward much-needed housing, commercial and infrastructure development.

They propose a 10-week determination period on these commercial sites, financed by increases in application fees paid to Council planning departments.

It also proposes speeding up planning appeals for minor applications under the Householder Appeal Service (HAS) and Commercial Appeals Service (CAS). This would attempt to streamline the lengthy appeal process by relying on processing minor applications through written representation rather than through hearings and inquiries.

Although the consultation focuses on commercial applications and minor housing appeals, it does raise the question of how this can indirectly open up an improved appeals process for housing delivery. In theory, this will speed up decision-making for the planning inspectorate and reallocate resources for major applications.

There is a clear incentive to speed up the planning process. The Government’s statutory timeframe for application determination of 13 weeks is massively overshot – with the average time of determination currently being 28 weeks at the point of submission.

If housing numbers are to meet the government’s national housing targets and indeed local plan allocations, one would expect that more applications will be submitted to PINS to deal with, with added pressure to hit the statutory timelines for appeals.

On the face of it, this consultation is a good move.

Streamlining the planning system will allow PINS to focus on major applications that naturally require more time and resources. Over the last 10 years, PINS received 2,332 appeals on major applications (50+ housing units or more) in the Eastern region alone[1]. In the last year, it made planning decisions on 17,750 appeals across 426 planning inspectors – around 42 applications per inspector[2].

The sheer volume and time taken to hear applications will inevitably have a knock-on effect on the delivery of housing and benefits to local authorities.

Ensuring the appeals process can be improved should be encouraged by the development industry, and there are multiple angles on how this can be tackled:

  1. Firstly, reducing the time taken for PINS to make decisions on applications. Currently, the median time for an application leading to a hearing is 49 weeks[3] – adding essentially an extra year to development timelines. These delays reduce the viability of schemes for developers, requires local government to allocate time and resources it often doesn’t have and delays unlocking benefits to the community.
  2. It should provide certainty from appeal outcomes, which are often incorrectly regarded by communities as tilted in favour of developers. Analysis of planning appeals in the last 10 years in the Eastern region demonstrates that of the 348 planning appeals decided for major applications, only 47% of planning appeals of major applications were successful[4]. Providing more certainty through the appeals process should be welcomed by the development industry.
  3. Then there is the simple reality of the appeals process and the need to communicate the benefits of an accelerated fast-track planning system to local communities. The legal route inevitably leads to unintended costs and time lost for all concerned. The resources it takes up for local authorities, the time spent putting together complicated legal representation and the general stress of legal action are often large drains on both councils and developers. It is not the ideal solution for all parties, but it is an inevitable part of the planning process and that needs to be communicated with the local community who often are not well versed on this element of the planning process.

This reality requires an honest engagement approach with local authorities, politicians and the community about how a streamlined appeals process can benefit proposals and ensure better quality development.

Winning the planning argument before going to local planning committees has become more important than ever, and this needs to be reflected in local engagement and awareness of the appeals process.

The government is right to streamline the appeals process and free up resources where it can. The development industry should embrace this move to not only provide more certainty for future development, but also communicate how this will benefit local communities in the long term.

[1] Data captured from COMPASS appeals database – 12th March 2024

[2] – planning inspectorate official statistics – 20th July 2023

[3] – planning inspectorate official statistics – 20th July 2023

[4] Data captured from COMPASS appeals database – 12th March 2024

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