Headlines: July 2nd, 2009

A target designed to speed up councils’ handling of planning applications has created ‘perverse incentives’ according to a committee of MPs. In a report today, the Public Accounts Committee says authorities can lose interest in an application once the 13 week target has been missed and of the decisions reached within the time limit the greater number are planning refusals.

The committee chairman, the Conservative Edward Leigh, said, the Department for Communities and Local Government simply did not know the average time it took from the pre-application stage to the start of construction. Work by the National Audit Office suggested the whole process took almost two years and he said: “It will have to be speeded up if the rate of delivery of new homes is to meet underlying housing need, estimated at nearly a quarter of a million new households a year.”

The report says the improvements to the development management process should include more effective discussions between local authorities and developers in the pre-application stage. Mr. Leigh added: “At present, there is a lack of clarity about the purpose of these early discussions and a lack of consistency in how authorities approach them.”

The MPs found that the 13-week target and the Planning Delivery Grant paid to those that met their targets had led to the percentage of major residential planning applications decided within 13 weeks almost doubling to 67 per cent between 2002–03 and 2007–08. The report goes on to say that the target regime has led to some perverse consequences and that, for example, as authorities gave priority to taking decisions within the target time there was less focus on applications that missed the target.