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RTPI: Councils “just about managing” due to budget pressure

24 August 2017

Local authorities’ ability to do strategic and proactive planning is crucial to fostering the economic growth Britain needs post Brexit, but years of under-investment have stripped local planning departments of crucial skills and experience, the RTPI says.

The true extent to which local planning authorities dedicate resources and structures to strategic and proactive planning and how this might be strengthened, will be the focus of new research to be conducted by the Institute.  An invitation to tender has just been published.

Building on the RTPI’s previous research, this project will further investigate the general resourcing, staffing pressures and delivery structures in local planning authorities, this time in the South East and North West of England. This research is supported by the RTPI North West and South East regions.

Planning authorities have generally been performing well in the difficult conditions in recent years, with performance data showing planning permissions are up and that more applications were decided within the standard time frame.

This is particularly important for these two very active housing and growth regions, and the findings and recommendations should be of broader relevance to other regions facing similar pressures.

All local government services have been under significant pressure over the past few years, However, data suggests that planning and development has been the hardest hit of all.

Trudi Elliott, RTPI Chief Executive, said:

“Planning authorities have generally been performing well in the difficult conditions in recent years, with performance data showing planning permissions are up and that more applications were decided within the standard time frame.

“But this masks a much bigger problem – that councils are just about managing to cope and increasingly becoming reactive, at the expense of doing planning at its most creative and strategic. Council planning services are surviving on the goodwill and professional integrity of their officers. We must understand the situation more clearly and that’s why we have initiated this research.”

The previous RTPI research on LA resources in the NW found that cuts were impacting on proactive planning, local plan development and planning policy development more generally. According to some participants in the research, there are cases where the lack of planning policy means it is too commercially risky for developers to prepare the planning applications they intended. The research concluded that the lack of proactive plan-making is likely to result in fewer projects coming forward, particularly public-private partnerships, often with a regeneration agenda.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that planning and development in England alone have been cut by an average of 59% since 2009-10 – in real terms by more than £1.47 billion. According to the same data, in Scotland, planning has been hit slightly less (by 31%), but in Wales the reductions have been on average more than 50%.