Headlines: June 30th, 2003

Councils are dealing with more planning applications and at a faster rate according to new figures from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. They show that local authorities dealt with planning applications two per cent faster in 2002-03 than in the previous year.Three councils which have improved their performance are to meet the Planning Minister so he can examine how they have achieved this – but he is warning that councils still need to improve the efficiency with which they handle major applications.

The overall increase in the speed of processing came in spite of an increase in the number of applications being dealt with to 167,000. Local planning authorities decided 43 per cent of major planning applications within 13 weeks. More than half of minor applications and 72 per cent of other planning applications were handled within eight weeks.

The figures show that forty-nine planning authorities met or surpassed the Government’s target of deciding 60 per cent of major planning applications within 8 weeks. A further 76 councils met the target of deciding 65 per cent of minor planning applications within 8 weeks and 96 met the target of deciding 80 per cent of other planning applications within 8 weeks. Ninety-nine authorities are classified as improvers, nine more than in the previous list published last December. Half of those authorities have been driven to higher performance by the use of Best Value performance standards set for last year.

Thirty-five planning authorities are classified as poor performers, a drop of nine on the previous figure. None of the 78 authorities selected to achieve Best Value performance standards in 2002-03 appear here as poor performers.

Planning Minister Keith Hill said he was encouraged by the figures that reflected the hard work of planners. He singled out three authorities – Wychavon, Middlesbrough and North Wiltshire – which he said had turned around performance and improved both speed and quality by rethinking their processes. He will now meet representatives from those councils to learn more about how this has been done.

He was concerned, though, that the improvements in performance were concentrated in the simpler, householder applications. He said he wanted to see how next year’s planning delivery grant could provide an incentive to the better handling of major applications.