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Planning: A planning system that is creaking at the seams

It is no secret that the Local Planning Authorities (LPA) are having issues, and things are only getting worse. Post-recession austerity measures brought in 12 years ago are crippling local authorities, with the knock-on effect that they are struggling to deliver the same levels of service and keep hold of experienced officers, meaning in some cases planning application are not given the right level of attention and often unconsidered decision are made, often to the frustration of a client. 

To try to alleviate this we are finding that some LPA re using various methods to give themselves more time, for example, there have been cases where councils are delaying the validation of planning applications to up to eight weeks. This only causes frustration to all parties and the will to works together starts to erode. 

Once planning applications are validated the LPAs have up to 8 weeks to issue a decision. In England, for unusually large or complex applications the time limit is 13 weeks. If at the end of this period if the LPA has not given a decision on an application and 8 weeks have passed since the validation date, you have to option to go to appeal, but this can be a long and drawn-out process, and not determined to achieve the required result. 

The formal planning Application process is not the only area in where the level of service provided by the LPA has been affected. The Pre-Application Planning Advice (PAPA) services provides engagement by prospective applicants and offers significant potential to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning application system and improve the quality of planning applications and their likelihood of success, but in some cases we have found some councils are refusing to provide a PAPA service for smaller domestic schemes, which as a shame as it is often the smaller residential schemes where this service is most beneficial. 

So what can we do about this? As a practice our philosophy has always been about engagement and cooperation, with both Community and LPA level, and having the PAPA central to our planning success. We have worked closely with South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) for over a decade and in that time have had a 100% success rate with our planning application / decision, a record we are immensely proud of, and it is good that SODC see the benefits of this service. 

Achieving a positive planning outcome with a council that has suspended their PAPA can mean that any concerns raised have to be addressed during a formal planning application causing delays, and invariably increases the LPAs work load to address these issues and often having to go through the consultation process for a second time which is more work load than would be involved in the PAPA service, so often seems a little shortsighted to suspend this service. 

Ensuring that any concerns raised by the LPA or the community have been addressed, and by developing a scheme that both achieves the clients requirements and has the backing of the LPA prior to a planning application, allow for a much smoother planning process.  


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