Headlines: December 16th, 2002

Local councils which deal quickly with planning applications will get more money from the government under a scheme announced by the Planning Minister Jeff Rooker.He said new figures show the speed with which authorities process applications is improving, but only slowly, and a number of authorities are lagging behind. Announcing the money for the performance scheme Lord Rooker said councils had to play their part in delivering thriving communities. “I am pleased to see 90 authorities are on our improvers list and 23 are meeting all three of our tough targets. These authorities are giving their communities the service they deserve,” he said.

The reward for improvement will be more money from the new Planning Delivery Grant next year while authorities which fail to take the necessary steps could face government intervention. Lord Rooker explained, “We will shortly announce the details of the Planning Delivery Grant for 2003-04. Until we do, I urge authorities to press ahead with better planning delivery because the philosophy behind the grant is to reward performance improvement. I am very concerned about the new list, showing those authorities that are not improving. No fewer than 44 authorities are going  in the wrong direction and failing their communities.”

He said 21 of these authorities had already been identified as poor performers. Statutory standards set for them were clearly not being met. At the same time, he said, other authorities were slipping backwards. “Taking account of the CPA scores we will have to look hard at how to drive performance in the right direction, ” he added.

For the first time the half-yearly Planning Performance Checklist of local authorities shows performance against the three new handling targets set from April to emphasise the need for timely handling of major applications. The checklist shows that on average, 43 per cent of major planning applications were being handled within 13 weeks while 65 per cent of minor planning applications and 71 per cent of other planning applications were being processed within 8 weeks.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is writing to 74 authorities which are subject to Best Value performance standards in planning this year. In the majority of cases their progress gives little cause for concern but there are worries over a number of councils which will face further investigation of their continuing poor performance.