Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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An end to the waiting game for planning decisions

An end to the waiting game for planning decisions

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT News Release (072) issued by The Government News Network on 25 March 2008

A new red tape busting review to weed out bureaucratic hurdles and create a more efficient planning service for the public and business, is being launched today by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, Business Secretary John Hutton and Housing and Planning Minister Caroline Flint.

Major reform to the planning system is already underway to give communities a greater say in a faster decision making process for large infrastructure projects. This review will look at the next challenge of improving the planning application process from start to finish to make it even more user friendly.

Local authorities have significantly improved their speed at handling applications, with 75 per cent meeting their performance targets, up from 25 per cent in 2001. However, there are still slow and cumbersome parts of the process that the Government wants to tackle, from unnecessary paperwork to delays after permission has been granted.

New investment to empower local people to use the planning system to shape their communities is also being announced today. Planning Aid funding is being doubled to £3.2 million this year, to enable more people to benefit from free independent advice to help them comment on proposals, make representations at inquiries, or submit a good planning application.

The review 'Planning Applications: a faster and more responsive system' will examine what can disrupt the progress of an application from when it is submitted up to and beyond when a decision is made, and will be carried out by Joanna Killian, Chief Executive of Essex County Council and David Pretty, former Group Chief Executive of Barratt Developments PLC.

It will make recommendations for improving the process, but importantly it will not seek to shift the balance of decision making, weaken important safeguards, or reduce public consultation.

Some of the issues in the current system that could be addressed include:

* Unnecessary duplication of paperwork in the application process. One part of a planning application for a housing development, for example, needed 24 copies of every single page, requiring a fork lift truck to deliver a dozen boxes.

* Delays occurring even after permission has been granted because pre-build conditions like construction schedules and legal steps are not being resolved quickly. One London application took 15 months after approval in principle to agree conditions.

* Councils making better use of technology like the internet to notify people about planning applications, in addition to more traditional ways of telling the public such as in libraries and on notice boards.

Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears said:

"The planning system is how we shape our future and we want to make it greener, more efficient and more empowering for local communities. Good progress is being made but we want to create a more user friendly system.

"By removing red tape and unblocking the bottlenecks that are slowing down applications, we can create a planning system for people that makes it is easier to apply, easier to be heard and easier to be green."

John Hutton the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform said:

"We recognise the current planning regime is one of the top five concerns for companies investing in the UK. Substantial improvements have already been made, and this review will now concentrate on how we can cut red tape and speed up the process without reducing protections for local communities.

"This is another important step in our ambitious programme to ease the burden of regulation in the private, public and third sectors."

Housing & Planning Minister Caroline Flint added:

"People often say they find the process of getting planning permission confusing and bureaucratic. By modernising the system and using new technology we can save everyone time and money and deliver the kind of effective and responsive planning service people deserve."

The study will report to Caroline Flint and Baroness Vadera. It will specifically:

* Examine various case studies to see where bottlenecks and delays occur and explore with stakeholders, such as local authorities, how the application process can be improved. For example by improving the pre and post application phases we can free up councils to consider the next case sooner.

* Look at how technology such as e-planning can improve the process for people and planners. For example using modern methods, like the internet, may be the best way to notify the public of development in some circumstances.

* Look at how a more proportionate system could better reflect the impact of a development. For example instead of a 'one size fits all' requirement for the supporting material needed with an application it will look at how a more tailored system might be better.

* Consider how statutory consultees like Highways Agency, Environment Agency and Natural England engage sooner with the application process.

Notes to Editors

1. Joanna Killian

Joanna joined Essex County Council as Director for Finance and Performance in March 2005. She started her current role as Chief Executive in June 2006 and was the first woman to hold the post, aged 41. Before joining Essex County Council, Joanna was Director of Local Government Performance and Improvement with the Audit Commission.

2. David Pretty

David Pretty retired as Group Chief Executive of Barratt Developments at the end of 2006 after 40 years in the housing industry, 27 of them with Barratt. He was made a CBE in 2007 for services to housebuilding. Since retirement from Barratt, he has remained active in the housebuilding sector, as a Director of the Home Builders Federation (HBF), Chairman of the New Homes Marketing Board, a trustee of The Prince's Regeneration Trust and an appeal board member of Shelter, the homelessness charity. He is also a non-executive Director of McCarthy & Stone, Britain's largest provider of private retirement housing.

3. The Review team can be contacted at: reviewofplanningapplicationprocess@communities.gsi.gov.uk

4. Planning Aid provides free advice to all callers and more detailed to eligible individuals and groups. It has been at the forefront of engaging and giving an equal voice to all those involved in planning. It specifically helps those on benefits, pensioners, or people whose household income is low. It also provides planning advice to small charities, voluntary and community groups, and tenants' organisations with limited funds or free reserves; Social enterprises and other not-for-profit businesses.

5. Each Region in the UK has an outreach programme of 'Community Planning', which identifies groups who have previously been excluded from the planning system or are disadvantaged from years of not 'having a voice'. The Community Planning programme works with these groups to develop their ability to understand their opportunities and rights within the planning system. Planning Aid also helps them find the right channels to communicate their views better. Planning Aid services can be contacted at info@planningaid.rtpi.org.uk.

6. The planning reform bill before parliament will change how we deliver major infrastructure. It will change a system that is now only delivering stalemate to a new single one that will revive our energy supplies by processing big projects like wind farms faster.

7. Planning is also help make the country greener. New planning rules (Policy Planning Statement on Climate Changes) require all councils cut carbon emissions by setting targets for using local renewable and low carbon energy in new housing developments and homeowners can now install their own solar panels without having to go through the system. Consultants ERM are today publishing a working draft of practice guidance to help planners and others implement the policies in the PPS. The working draft guidance is now available from ERM's website at http://www.erm.com/practiceguidance

News Releases: http://www.communities.gov.uk/newsroom

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