Monday, 19 November 2012

The Playing Fields Of Eton: Croquet, Polo & Planner-Bashing


According to the Eton College website, the sporting activities offered to students include: beagling, croquet, fencing, polo, and the 'Wall Game' (no idea...). Planner-bashing is not advertised, but it's not hard to imagine Messers Cameron and Osborne being schooled in it's ancient arts there as well.
 
The school analogy also extends to imagining a bully seeking a veneer of strength by picking out a soft target. Certainly in a climate of anaemic economic recovery, it is easy to point the finger at the planning system.
 
With the ink still drying on the NPPF, the Growth & Infrastructure Bill was introduced to parliament last month and is due to be fast-tracked on to the statute books by April 2013. The usual rhetorical flourishes apply (“helping the country compete on the global stage”, "cutting excessive red tape”,etc).
 
Picking up on the idea that there are thousands of jobs locked in Town Hall filing cabinets, the Bill seeks to reduce delays in the planning system by allowing applicants to bypass an under-performing LPA and have the Secretary of State determine an application within a guaranteed 12 month.
 
The so-called “special measures provisions” of the Bill are to apply where a LPA is“designated” by the Secretary of State. The indicators used to assess under-performance have yet to be finalised, but the Bill's Impact Assessment uses:
 
·         Timeliness - the average number of major applications decided within 13 weeks, assessed over a two year period; or
·         Proportion of major decisions overturned - defined as the number of appeals involving major development that are lost as a percentage of all major decisions made (again assessed over a two year period).
 
The precise benchmarks for designating authorities as ‘poor performing’ will be subject to consultation, but the Impact Assessment assumes that the timeliness measure is less than 30% and the proportion of major decisions overturned is greater than 20%.
 
So how great a problem is under-performance by LPAs? The system and the managers of it are by no means perfect, but from the rhetoric and the perceived need for legislation it is not hard to imagine a lay person gathering the impression that most planning departments are basket cases.
 
Analysis by Planning of official data showing Councils’ performance on deciding major applicationson time over a two-year period has shown that no major applications would qualify for submission to PINS based on LPAs having a poor appeals record as no council has more than 20% of its major decisions overturned at appeal. Haringey, the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Torbay, Hounslow, Barking &Dagenham, and Cambridge performed below the 30% timeliness threshold.
 
The 'special provisions', therefore, would apply to only 1.6% of the LPAs in England and Wales. Notwithstanding the Government's stated committed to localism and a simplification of the planning system, does the problem of under-performing LPAs really need parliamentary time and legislation to solve it? Does the Secretary of State really need to designate, no doubt with much fanfare, an under-performing LPA? Might it not be more appropriate for the Government's Chief Planner to offer discreet, direct support for those LPAs that clearly need assistance?
 
These questions are not difficult to answer, but who will stand up for the planning system and make our Eton bullies listen?

No comments:

Post a Comment