Major planning application approvals take 25 weeks, almost double the government target

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08 October 2014

England’s major cities are taking almost half a year to determine major planning* applications, with an average approval time of 25 weeks in London, the Greater Manchester and Greater Bristol areas, according to GL Hearn and the British Property Federation’s third Annual Planning Survey.

Although timings for planning approvals have improved since the first survey in 2012, the average application still takes almost double the government’s target of 13 weeks for major developments. In fact, 71% of planning applicants surveyed were dissatisfied with the time taken to make these decisions.

The survey also revealed that both local authorities and property developers recognise that the planning system needs further change. Almost two thirds (62%) of councils think that the current system has significant problems and needs major change – just under half (47%) of planning applicants agree. Whilst the system clearly needs further review and improvement, the research suggests that some of the recent reforms have helped. Around half of Local Authorities (48%) and applicants (54%) feel that the planning reforms introduced by the government have increased development activity.

Although the survey showed that both developers and councils have frustrations over the planning system, it revealed that there was a discrepancy between where they perceived the problems to be. Over half (52%) of developers in the survey identified the planning system as a major barrier to greater house building, with a shortage of land listed as the second most important obstacle (43%). Councils tend to name funding (43%) and demand (41%) as the principal obstacles to more house-building.

Three years of data shows that although improvement in the system has been brought about, the NPPF and other reforms have not stimulated a significant increase in major applications, and the time taken to receive a decision remains stubbornly high.

Key regional findings include:

  • In London, the average approval time is 26 weeks – similar to last year’s survey (24 weeks) but a big improvement from 2011/12 when it stood at 34 weeks,
  • The average approval rate is 22 weeks in Greater Manchester and 29 weeks in the Bristol region,
  • The growth in major planning applications is consistent across the capital, with five boroughs storming ahead with an increase of 100% or more – Bromley, Ealing, Hounslow, Kensington & Chelsea and Waltham Forest.

Commenting on the findings of this year’s Annual Planning Survey, Shaun Andrews, GL Hearn’s Head of Investor and Developer Planning, said:

“In 2012 the economy was struggling to escape the recession and the government launched the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to stop the planning system from holding back development. This year’s Annual Planning Survey shows that Local Planning Authorities have taken strides to make the planning system more efficient, but timings remain stubbornly high at almost double the government target.

“Many Local Planning Authorities must be commended for their efforts to speed up the planning process and some aspects of the NPPF have clearly had a positive impact on the system. However, the current process must be made shorter, clearer and more consistent in order to capitalise on the investment being made available for new homes. The government needs to focus on how Local Planning Authorities can be better resourced and encouraged to share best practice. There has arguably been too much focus on the system itself and not enough on the people and resources that are needed to run it. To achieve the step change required, significant investment is needed and the government needs to look further at ways the private sector resources can be leveraged.”

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, commented: “It is clear that the planning system has some way to go before it meets the aspirations of developers, government and planning authorities. Particularly the length of time that major developments spend stuck in the ‘pre-application process’, which is something that is not picked up in any official figures, and which needs to be looked in to. “It is also clear that the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) needs further reform, as it continues to cause both local authorities and developers consternation, and in some places further delays the delivery of important schemes.”

GL Hearn and the British Property Federation conducted the first Annual Planning Survey in 2012 to explore the impact of government reform on the planning system. The research, undertaken by Circle Research, consists of a survey of 252 Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) and applicants, alongside an analysis of major applications focused around London, Manchester and Bristol.

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In 2012 the economy was struggling to escape the recession and the government launched the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to stop the planning system from holding back development. This year’s Annual Planning Survey shows that Local Planning Authorities have taken strides to make the planning system more efficient, but timings remain stubbornly high at almost double the government target
Shaun Andrews
Head of Investor and Developer Planning

GL Hearn

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