GL Hearn and BPF announce results of second Annual Planning Survey

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17 September 2013

Independent property consultant GL Hearn, in partnership with the British Property Federation (BPF), today held a seminar to announce the results of its Annual Planning Survey (APS) and research into Major Applications in London and Manchester, both of which are in their second year. The Major Applications’ Research analyses the efficiency of all London Boroughs in processing major* planning applications in terms of process times and approval rates, as well as determining the number of major applications submitted per borough. This year for the first time, the research has also analysed the processing of major applications in Greater Manchester.

Conducted over the summer of 2013, the survey canvassed the views of those involved in both sides of the development management process to understand the collective sentiment within the industry of recent and proposed changes to the planning system. The survey asked both the views of Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) and those involved on the Applicants’ side.

GL Hearn received 50 responses from LPAs and 144 from Applicants and/or their advisers. The surveys found that during 2012-13 there were 28% fewer major applications determined (775 applications in 2012-13 against 1075 in 2011-12). Of the 775 applications determined, there was a significant reduction in decision time compared to last year, with the average time from validation to determination falling to 24 weeks in 2012-13 (down from 34 weeks in 2011-12). The average approval rate was only very slightly down this year, from 85% in 2011-12 to 82% in 2012-13.

Overall the likelihood of securing planning permission for a ‘major development’ remains unchanged in comparison to last year’s survey. Major planning applications, once submitted, are being determined faster than this time last year, although the large majority of applicants remain unsatisfied with the length of time it takes for applications to be determined (70% in 2012-13 down slightly from 75% in 2012) with 63% still concerned with their cost.

Shaun Andrews, Head of Investor and Developer Planning at GL Hearn considered a number of possible reasons behind the speeding up of the determination process: “It may be that there are fewer applications in the system, therefore LPAs are able to allocate resources more efficiently. Or it could be due to greater emphasis being placed upon the pre-application period, so although applications are being processed more quickly, overall the length of time for the application process remains the same. Alternatively, it could be that the Government’s reforms are having a positive effect and as such LPAs are making considerable efforts to determine applications more quickly.”

Shaun continues: “Last year’s survey provided some compelling evidence that there is an appetite for further reform to the planning system, particularly that which will reduce planning delays, the costs associated with ‘planning gain’ and that which will deliver greater certainty for investors. This year’s survey demonstrates that this appetite for improvement remains with an overall dissatisfaction with the current speed of determination and cost of applications.”

“Whilst there have been a number of Government reforms since 2010, the main initiatives are remain the Localism Act and NPPF - when asked what impact these reforms have had on development activity, the prevailing view remains that there has been only been a limited effect, if any at all.”

Since the last survey two significant measures have either been introduced (special measures) or reinvigorated (Planning Performance Agreements). When asked what impact ‘special measures’ will have on the planning system there was a split response: 47% of Applicants believe they will improve LPA performance, whilst 58% of LPAs do not think they will improve performance. Of those that have entered in to a Planning Performance Agreement, the same division was found: only 25% of Applicants view the experience as positive (same as in 2012) in comparison to 62% of LPAs.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “We’re pleased to see a reduction in the time taken by local authorities to determine a planning application.

“Time will tell as the economic conditions improve, and more major proposals come to the table, whether this is a sustained improvement or as a result of the fall in applications from the previous year. It should also be noted that there’s supposed to be a 13 week deadline for major planning applications, so while this is a move in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go.

“One area where there appears to be agreement is ensuring local authorities have the resources and staff to ensure planning applications are dealt with in a timely manner. In the face of central government spending cuts there are fears planning departments are smaller and less well equipped.”

The results of the Annual Planning Survey were announced at an event on Tuesday 17th September at the Royal Society of Arts in London.

* Definition of a ‘major development’: 10 or more dwellings, residential sites over 0.5ha, non-residential sites over 1ha or creation/change of use of over 1,000 sq. m. gross.

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