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Planning Permission

Volume 767: debated on Tuesday 15 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current time delay between a council’s resolution to grant planning permission and the issue of implementable planning permission on housing sites of 50 houses or more; and what steps they plan to take to reduce that delay.

Declaring my interests in the register, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, our reforms are driving up performance on deciding applications for major development. In spring 2015, 78% of major applications were decided on time, compared to 57% in summer 2012. We are taking steps to drive further improvement, including introducing a dispute resolution process for Section 106 agreements. The time between resolution to grant and full planning permission is not monitored.

I thank my noble friend for those figures, which show that the speed of processing applications is indeed accelerating. However, I am told that the number of applications that are still outstanding after one year is at present around 13% and growing, and these are the big schemes with lots of social housing in them. Can the Minister tell us of any plans to accelerate the big schemes?

My Lords, I do not recognise the 13% figure cited by my noble friend, because we do not publish national statistics on the percentage of decisions outstanding after a year. We publish figures on the periods within which a decision has been made. For major developments, in the most recent quarter, 10% of applications took more than a year to decide, or were decided after the end of an agreed extended time period, as set out in the planning performance agreement or extension of time, which could be anything over 13 or 16 weeks.

My Lords, it is very welcome that we have seen an increase in earlier decisions being made, but, given the Government’s commitment to localism, is the Minister content that this is because more and more decisions are being made under delegated council decisions where the planning decisions are made by local government officials? In sensitive issues, that really should be the decision of elected councillors.

I am very glad that the Question is not about Schengen, by the way; I would have struggled.

On planning decisions being made by officials, provisions have always been in place that officials can take certain decisions, particularly where they are uncontentious. However, the localising of planning decision-making through neighbourhood plans and local plans has made for happier communities that are far more likely to go along with planning decisions when they are made.

My Lords, in my small town in West Yorkshire, there are four planning consents for more than 500 houses awaiting development. In some cases, they have been awaiting development for more than two years. Does the Minister agree that because they are on brownfield sites, which are clearly more expensive to develop, the Government’s apparent commitment to developing brownfield sites first is barely credible when developers can wait for green land relief, where the profit margins are greater?

My Lords, it is absolutely right to develop brownfield sites first. We want to avoid development of greenfield land and build on brownfield land first. That is why we have designated brownfield sites as a priority for our housebuilding.

My Lords, delays in planning matters are of course to be regretted, but it is very likely that there will be more delays in future, given the reductions in planning staff across many authorities of all political colours as a result of the Government’s cuts. However, in Newcastle, in a ward which the Minister had the pleasure of visiting recently, there are two housing schemes which the council wished to promote with housing associations. The fact is that two of the potentially interested bodies withdrew because of concerns about the impact of the Government’s policies on housing association rents and the right to buy on their capacity to enter into the development. The third organisation is yet to make its mind up. Will the Government not recognise that they need to take into account the role of housing associations, and look again at the proposals which will make it more difficult for them to engage in housebuilding?

My Lords, perhaps I can answer the second part of the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, as well as this one. In terms of the role of housing associations and reluctance to build, 96% of housing association stock providers have signed up to the right-to-buy deal with the Government. In Scotswood, where I saw the Rise development, which is incredibly impressive, they are building ahead of time. In terms of speeding up the process, we will be bringing forward measures to drive up performance within planning authorities. In terms of capacity to deliver, which we discussed only yesterday evening, there are funds to enable local planning authorities to build in capacity to enable them to deliver some of the Government’s new priorities.

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my entries in the register of interests. The planning process must be profitable for local planning authorities. In the West Country, many local planning authorities have insufficient qualified planning officers. Is there anything that the Minister can do to encourage local planning authorities to recruit more qualified planning officers?

My Lords, I think that I partly answered that in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. In small planning authorities, particularly in district authorities, there is every reason why authorities should share functions, if the authorities are particularly small.

My Lords, I do not think that, in answering the question asked by my noble friend Lord Beecham, the Minister really addressed the central issue. My noble friend gave two examples of housing associations that have withdrawn from schemes because they do not think that they are now viable, given government policies. What evidence do the Government have that their policies towards housing associations are not going to choke off new housing development for affordable homes?