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Planners could face stiffer performance benchmarks

Words: Roger Milne
Performance benchmarking for planners

Local authorities in England will have to pass a minimum of 40 per cent of planning applications on time to avoid being branded under-performing under a new proposal from the government.

If the plan, out for consultation until 4 May, is passed, it will mark a one-third increase in the required performance level for planning departments.

Currently, local authorities are expected to pass 30 per cent of applications within the statutory 13-week period (or 16 weeks for applications subject to environmental impact assessment).

The government is also consulting on changes to Section 106 agreements that would restrict their use to impose affordable housing obligations on small developments.

The Planning Performance and Planning Contribution consultation document states that its aim is to:

- ensure there are further improvements in the speed of decisions on planning applications for major development

- promote housing delivery by introducing a threshold for Section 106 affordable housing contributions.

Speeding up planning applications

Under the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013, the secretary of state has the authority to take over a local authority’s planning powers if they are deemed to be “under-performing” in their handling of planning applications. In these circumstances, applicants for major development have the option of applying directly to the secretary of state.

According to government, the performance threshold was set deliberately “low” at 30 per cent at the outset of the measurement scheme in order to give councils the chance to adjust. Performance has improved, says government, since the Growth and Infrastructure Bill was introduced, from 57 per cent of applications dealt with on time in October 2012 to 69 per cent in September 2013. But the minimum threshold could yet go higher than the proposed 40 per cent.

If approved, the new threshold will not affect the current round of two-year performance reviews which come to an end in April.

The consultation will also consider how to clarify the way in which “Exceptional circumstances” affecting speed of dealing with applications will be taken into account.

Changes to Section 106 agreements

The consultation also contains a proposal to restrict the use of Section 106 agreements to impose affordable housing obligations on small scale developments.

"This change in policy would restrict the use of section 106 planning obligation contributions where sites contain 10 units or less with a maximum combined gross floor space of 1,000 square metres,” the consultation document states.

It goes on: “This is to help address the disproportionate burden being placed on small scale developers, including those wishing to build their own homes, and which prevents the delivery of much needed, small scale housing sites.”

Have your say

The consultation for changes to performance and Section 106 thresholds applies to England only and will run until 4 May 2014.

Read the consultation document here.