Fast track applications to speed up planning process and boost housebuilding

Councils will compete to process planning applications and be able to offer fast track application services under new proposals.

  • shake up expected to drive council innovation and efficiency, support housebuilding and speed up planning process
  • government proposing competition in handling planning applications and increasing choice for applicants
  • opportunities also include a fast track application service
  • decision making will remain with local councils to maintain the democratic link between local voters and decision makers

Councils will compete to process planning applications and be able to offer fast track application services, like those available for getting a passport, in a shake up of the planning process under proposals out to consultation today (18 February 2016).

Ministers want the pilots to tackle the lack of incentive for councils to improve and speed up their planning service leading to drawn out applications and local frustration for both housebuilders and individual applicants.

The proposals are expected to boost housebuilding and speed up the planning application process.

The proposals will increase local choice by giving applicants the choice of whether to submit their plans to the local council, a competing council or a government approved organisation that would process applications up until the decision point.

Councils will also be able to offer the fast track planning application service either through competition pilots or potentially through devolution deals.

Decision making on planning applications would remain with the local council to ensure decisions are taken locally and maintain the democratic link between local people and decision makers.

Communities Secretary Greg Clark said:

Council planning departments play a vital role in getting local housebuilding off the ground, but for too long they have had no incentive to get things done quickly or better, resulting in drawn out applications and local frustration.

These proposals will be a boost for housebuilders looking to build much needed new homes for hard working families and first time buyers, and for local people looking to get a planning permission for home improvements through their local council quicker.

Planning Minister Brandon Lewis said:

Many councils are already working hard to improve the services they offer their residents, and across the country peoples satisfaction levels remain high.

Now we want to go further by setting out these ambitious proposals to link any future increases in application fees to councils performance, and testing more competition including through offering dedicated fast track application services.

Historically councils have had a closed market in handling planning applications, with limited incentive for innovation and efficiency.

However research studies over the last 3 decades in the UK and abroad suggest there are cost savings of up to a fifth for competitively tendered or shared services.

A consultation on the competition pilots and fast track services is published today.

It also includes proposals to make any future increases in councils fees for processing planning applications dependent on their performance in terms of speed and quality of decisions.

Further details on how the pilots will run will be published after the consultation has closed.

Other measures in the consultation, which is related to the Housing and Planning Bill, cover:

  • details of how a new planning permission in principle approach will work in practice
  • how councils will run brownfield land and small sites registers
  • speeding up the neighbourhood planning process
  • improving handling of planning applications with new thresholds for designating councils as poor performers
  • extending permitted development rights for free schools

A separate consultation also published today seeks views on more housebuilding in London through allowing taller buildings, subject to conditions.

In response to the fast track planning system Adrian Swan, Managing Director, Swan Homes East Midlands Ltd, said:

A fast track planning system would change the dynamics of our business, allowing SMEs like ourselves to upscale housing supply in support of the government projected national targets, and assist in greater delivery, while having the ability to gain improved and quicker access to main stream bank finance.

Paying enhanced and increased fees to local planning authorities in a bid to ensure its effective implementation, would be welcomed and supported knowing it would have a positive effect on the local and wider economy.

David Tilbury, Managing Director of Tilbury Corporation (builders and developers), said:

The fast track system would enable smaller house builders to bring forward small sites that may have previously been considered to high of a risk in terms of costs of planning, along with completing all the red tape regulation and waiting a long time, for a permission that may not be granted.

Pete Redfern of Taylor Wimpey said:

Taylor Wimpey welcomes todays announcements on a consultation proposing the introduction of competition in the processing of applications, the provision of fast tracking of application processing and future fee increases linked to council performance.

Whilst many local authorities perform well, there are those which struggle with resources and performance, causing significant delay to otherwise acceptable development.

Todays consultation offers local authorities and applicants alternative processing routes and the prospect of higher fees, where good performance levels can be demonstrated, which when combined will offer improved speed and quality of planning services.

Andrew Telfer, Chief Executive of Willmott Dixon Regen, the residential development business of Willmott Dixon, said:

As developers, it’ important during the planning process that applications are dealt with in a timely manner. The principle of paying a premium to accelerate the planning process provides welcome flexibility that we support as it will allow us to plan our developments with better certainty of the timescales for the planning application.

Federation of Master Builders Chief Executive Brian Berry said:

The slow processing of planning applications remains one of the greatest barriers to building more new homes. We welcome the governments determination to find new and innovative ways of addressing this problem as it could help builders deliver more homes.

Indeed, if we are to see a resurgence in SME house building, councils will be met with a greater number of planning applications for small developments and this will put further strain on their resources. These trial measures have the ability to help fast track an all-too-often sclerotic planning process and unleash the potential of the local developer.

Stephen Stone of Crest Nicholson said:

Today’s Housing and Planning Bill announcement is welcome news for the house/ building sector and clearly demonstrates the governments determination to tackle the housing shortage we face in the UK.

The planning measures proposed today will significantly expedite the planning process by driving innovation and efficiency within councils and in turn help housebuilders to start building much needed new homes and communities without delay.

The new fast track application service is a progressive step towards securing future home delivery. Importantly, by ensuring decision making authority remains with local councils, we will not lose the vital link between local decision makers and housebuilders.

At Crest Nicholson, we wholly support action that encourages a more efficient housing and planning system and ultimately helps to alleviate the ongoing housing shortage in the UK.

Peter Andrew, Deputy Chairman at the Home Builders Federation said.

It still takes new home applications too long to negotiate the complexities of the planning system and as a result there are thousands of new homes  stuck awaiting final approval. Whilst build rates have risen significantly over the past 2 years, if we are to deliver further increases it is imperative we find a way of speeding up the process of approving sites for development.

Introducing competition and fast tracking applications has the potential to make the system more competitive and efficient for both councils and developers and get building underway on more sites, more quickly. Speeding up and reducing the cost of the applications process will in particular assist SME developers, more of whom we desperately need to get building if we are to continue to increase output overall.

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