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DCLG to raise speed threshold for "under-performing" planning authorities

The Government has decided to increase the threshold for designating local planning authorities as “under-performing”, based on speed, to 40% or fewer of decisions being made on time.

The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 allows developers to submit planning applications directly to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if an authority has been designated for under-performance.

The original threshold for designation – in relation to speed of decision-making – was where an authority determined fewere than 30% of major planning applications within a 13-week timeframe over a two-year assessment period.

In its response to consultation, the Department for Communities and Local Government said the original threshold was set “at a low level” partly to reflect the fact that historic data did not allow local authorities to record extension of time agreements.

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Since April 2013 local authorities have been able to record extension of time agreements and planning performance agreements in the official statistics on which the DCLG bases designations. This practice will continue.

The DCLG said: “In light of the improvements in performance since the threshold was introduced, raising the threshold to 40% will help to encourage continued improvements in performance, but we recognise the desire expressed by many respondents for a longer lead-in time for any increases above this.

“We will therefore keep the 40% threshold under review with a view to increasing it in future.”

The response said it was the Government’s belief that it was appropriate to have the same threshold for county matters as for district matters, and for unitary authorities to be assessed against district and county matters separately.

The DCLG also announced that:

  • It intends to introduce an exemption from designation based on the speed of decisions, for those authorities which have determined two or fewer applications of major development over the two-year assessment period. This was on the basis that such a small number of applications was insufficient to point to a record of poor performance. It rejected however calls for a higher threshold for exemption.
  • Its proposed tests for exceptional circumstances were appropriate. “The tests set out are intended to provide a framework to be used to assess any cases put forward by local planning authorities that exceptional circumstances apply, and which would make a designation unreasonable. The tests do not set out to prescribe or restrict what a local planning authority might choose to put forward as an exceptional circumstance; however, authorities will want to consider how any arguments they wish to propose relate to the tests.” The Department said it would not be appropriate to expand upon the broad principles set out in the tests.

The threshold in relation to the percentage of determinations overturned on appeal remains the same at 20%. There will be an exemption for authorities that have decided 10 or fewer major applications over the relevant period.

The DCLG consultation response said that the approach to local authority performance introduced by the 2013 Act gave applicants the choice of an alternative application route where the local planning service was not being delivered effectively.

“Local planning authorities are at risk of being designated as under-performing only where they have a record of failing to decide applications for major development on time, or where a significant proportion of the authority’s decisions have been challenged successfully at appeal,” it said.

“These measures reflect the importance of timely and well-considered decisions on planning applications for both the economy and for local communities, and build on the existing ability of applicants to appeal to the Secretary of State where specific applications are not decided on time.”

The Government said it accepted that parties other than the local planning authority could be a cause of delay – “but such circumstances again point to the need for bespoke timetables to be agreed between the parties where justified; and, as this consultation response sets out, we will also take into account any exceptional circumstances before designations are confirmed”.

It added that it had also put in place a package of support through the Planning Advisory Service for both designated authorities and those potentially at risk of designation.

In November 2013 Blaby District Council became the first local authority to be put in ‘special measures’ after failing to meet the DCLG’s planning decision deadlines.

It had been named as one of three councils to have determined – between July 2011 and July 2013 – fewer than 30% of major planning applications within 13 weeks. The two other authorities, Halton and Worthing, escaped designation.

The decision prompted an angry response from Conservative-run Blaby’s leader, who said centrally dictated targets were incompatible with localism and also the systems thinking process employed by the council.

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