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Local Planning: Shared Services

Volume 602: debated on Monday 9 November 2015

6. What support his Department provides to local authority planning departments to facilitate sharing of services. (902052)

Planning authorities that have introduced new ways of delivering planning services have shown that performance can be improved while reducing costs. I hope that more will follow their lead. We have put support in place through funding the Planning Advisory Service, and we are open to supporting planning authorities to deliver ambitious proposals through devolution deals.

Does my hon. Friend accept that shared services can lead to cost savings and greater efficiency. What can be done about those local authorities that consistently fail to meet their timetables for taking planning decisions, which holds up the development of new housing and economic growth?

My right hon. Friend is right to highlight local authorities which do not play their part and thus create a problem. I hope local authorities will be keen to make sure they deliver the housing their communities need. He has the advantage of having a local authority, Chelmsford, which is one of the better performing planning authorities, as I know from my experience as a council leader nearby. It is clear that local authorities that share services can make sure that they protect and improve front-line services, such as planning services, and can see savings of as much as 20% on the work.

Many local authorities, including my own, Halton, do a lot of good work through sharing and working in co-operation with other local authorities, but services such as planning have been cut to the bone and have great difficulty meeting requests. When does the Minister think planning and other departments in councils will reach a point where they struggle to deliver their service?

Planning is one of the services that councils, particularly small district authorities, have not gone very far in sharing. In some of the shire areas and small district councils in particular, coming together with one strong planning service is not just cost-effective, but will produce a good quality service and interesting work for the planners to do as well.

Residents in north-east Lincolnshire have been without a local plan for many years, and it will take another 20 months on a revised timetable to produce one. They would welcome shared services. Will my hon. Friend use his good offices to have a word with the council to see whether it could co-operate more closely with its neighbours to produce a plan much more quickly?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. As we have just heard, devolution provides opportunities. My hon. Friend is right to prod, encourage and cajole that local authority to make sure that a local plan is in place in the best interests of local communities, but as we have said and as we are outlining in the Housing and Planning Bill, the Government will make sure that these are done from 2017.