On 22 November 2012, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published a consultation entitled 'Planning performance and the planning guarantee' setting out, amongst other things, how the Growth and Infrastructure Bill's proposals to enable planning applications to be made directly to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) would operate.
The aim of the consultation is to determine how a Local Planning Authority's (LPA) performance will be judged - underpinning the Government's Planning Guarantee that the application process (including appeals) will take no longer than one year. The consultation seeks views on the criteria which should be used to judge a LPA's performance and how to assess and identify both underperformance and improved performance. But how will these criteria work in practice?
Under the proposals, if a developer makes an application for planning permission for a major development in an area where there are clear failures in the LPA's performance, the developer would be entitled to apply directly to PINS. The criteria by which LPAs may be designated as "poor performers" will include consideration of both the speed and quality of the LPA's decisions over the previous two years.
An LPA may be designated as "poor" based on the speed of its applications if 30% or fewer of its major development applications (e.g. applications for 10 or more houses or over 1000m2) have been determined within the 13 week statutory determination period. This could potentially cover a large number of applications in each LPA's jurisdiction. In terms of quality, an LPA's performance may be judged to be "poor" if 20% or more of refusals for major applications have been overturned at appeal in the last two years.
If the LPA decision making process is judged to be too slow or if the quality of the decisions is judged to be poor (i.e. decisions are frequently overturned, so weren't robust in the first place) then the LPA, will be designated as a "poor performer". Designation would last for one year and would only be removed following a further review of the LPA's performance.
It remains to be seen whether the consultation will ultimately produce assessment criteria for LPAs which strike at the heart of the issues at the LPA level and whether the issues faced by developers during the planning process will be properly addressed through these proposals.
Arguably, the ability for applicants to apply directly to PINS would be contrary to the Government's localism agenda and may lead to a further disconnect between the application of power at central and local government level, while also potentially straining relations between applicants and the LPA itself.
Critics would argue that the proposals will create further problems. For example, LPAs who do not agree with the proposals may attempt to manipulate their performance statistics through delaying the validation of applications, refusing consents or seeking extensions to the statutory determination deadlines by demanding the use of planning performance agreements at the expense of the applicant.
Will the threat of designation be enough to change the culture of poorly performing LPAs, speed up the planning process and get development moving forward? The consultation closes on 17 January 2013 - watch this space.