Headlines: December 15th, 2003

The speed with which most local councils are making planning decisions has improved dramatically according to new figures from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The latest planning performance checklist shows an increase in the number of authorities meeting targets for handling planning applications compared with the position six months ago.The checklist is the first to be published since the initial slice of the planning delivery grant was paid to authorities. It shows the level of development control performance that will be taken into account in the awards for 2004/05, but Planning Minister Keith Hill said it would not be the only area the government would be rewarding, as good quality plan making would also feature.

He welcomed the improvement but said it was still too early to say the figures marked a turning point, as there was still a lot of work to be done by everyone in the planning world to deliver a better service to the local community. He was pleased to see planners rolling up their sleeves and getting on with the job. In the year to September, local planning authorities on average determined 48 per cent of major planning applications within 13 weeks, 58 per cent of minor planning applications and 76 per cent of other planning applications within 8 weeks. Those figures represent a five per cent improvement in processing major applications and a 4 per cent increase for determining both minor and other applications. There were 121 planning authorities classified as improvers, 22 more than in the previous Checklist. Thirty-four authorities are classified as poor performers this time, only one fewer than previously.

Mr. Hill was concerned at this marginal reduction in the number of authorities whose performance was not improving. “We are unhappy some authorities are being left behind in the race for better performance. Those authorities who are performing have shown it can be done and I see no reason why others can’t up their game. We will have to consider carefully whether any steps need to be taken with these authorities,” he warned.

Mr. Hill also commented on allegations that some authorities were speeding up their services at the expense of the quality of their decisions. There was, he said, no inconsistency between meeting the targets and offering a good service but where there was evidence of manipulation of performance the government would act on it.