Just spotted on CLG's new website (does anyone like this new website? I much preferred the old version) a consultation on the proposals in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill to allow applicants to bypass underperforming local planning authorities by submitting applications direct to the Secretary of State.
I gather that the minister, Nick Boles, has spoken some words of comfort that in fact very few authorities will be in "special measures" - but the consultation claims the legislation will "stimulate an increased focus on performance ...generally".
The approach to identifying what poor performance is will include consideration of the speed and quality of decisions. In the case of the former, the measure will focus on how often the LPA hits its statutory time periods for determination. However, an agreement to extend the period will be classed as a "planning performance agreement" and will move that application out of the assessment so it would not count in the figures (!).
But it is in the quality of decisions where measurement will be particularly difficult. Here, the proposal is that the appeals track record of an LPA (on major developments) should be the guide and that "very poor performance" would come into play where an LPA lost more than 20% of its major decisions. Not sure about that - in my experience, many applicants simply rework their proposals and resubmit even where an appeal case would be a strong one. No prizes for guessing which point in the consultation attracts the most vocal responses!
The most frustrating thing is where there is a strong recommendation in favour, following often months of negotiation - but where the decision by members is to reject the proposal. Would a better measure not be to consider the proportion of major developments which do not go with an officer recommendation? Of course the decision is that of members, but if there is a track record of officer decisions being overturned, surely that tells some kind of story.
Included in the proposals is more on the "planning guarantee" - i.e. that no application should stay in the system for more than a year even where an appeal is involved. So a simple 50:50 split is suggested - with 26 weeks being the target for LPAs in making the initial determination - with a refund of the fee if the target is not met (unless there is a planning performance agreement in place).