South East and North West
Following an earlier 2015 study, this 2018 research considers the level of investment in public sector planning services in two English regions and how this relates to performance and delivery. The research combines an extensive literature review with analysis of CIPFA data on resourcing, and interviews and focus groups with local authority officers. It highlights the funding pressures on local planning authorities, but also the innovative ways in which they have responded to them. It also considers how the 20% increase in planning fees offered by central Government were being allocated to improve service delivery. The study makes recommendations for best practice based on surveys and interviews with focus groups from local authorities who participated. The research was led by ARUP, and commissioned by RTPI South East and RTPI North West.
The summary can be read here with the full report to be published in early July.
Top key findings
- Good training is considered a main benefit of working for Local Planning Authorities, however opportunities for such training is being eroded by resource pressures.
- Income from Development Management Services is increasing but still falls short of covering the cost of planning applications.
- Resources are being diverted from placeshaping activities to core statutory functions
- There is an absence of planners in top positions within local authorities.
- The 20% increase in planning fees will not entirely address resourcing challenges.
- Despite budget cuts, 87% of major planning applications are still being determined within 13 weeks. However, focus on speed as only performance measure curtails planners' ability to impact on quality of decision and negotiate positive outcomes.
Top key Recommendations
- The head of planning should be a statutory position within Local Planning Authorities (LPAs)
- Planners should be at the top table within LPAs
- LPAs should consider collaboration across departments and avoid silo-ing their planners
- LPAs should invest in their planners by growing their own and taking advantage of apprenticeship schemes
- LPAs should invest in digital management tools
- Government should allow LPAs to encourage, empower and protect planning judgement and place making, avoiding 'post box' or target based decision making.
RTPI North West region - Investing in Delivery 2015
This research examines the resourcing of local planning authorities in the North West of England, whether a lack of resources is impacting on growth and development, and what can be done to respond to these pressures.
The research was conducted by Arup, the global engineering, design and planning company, and commissioned by the RTPI North West region.
The research included a literature review and data analysis, a survey sent to all North West local planning authorities, telephone and face to face interviews, and focus group sessions with public and private sector participants. Over 40 organisations participated in the research.
The full report is available here, along with a research briefing.
Key messages for policy and practice
- There have been significant reductions in local planning authority budgets and staffing since 2010, with a third fewer planning staff overall, including a decrease on average of 37 per cent in planning policy staff and 27 per cent in development management staff.
- These reductions are impacting on delivery and development. Overall, the reductions in local planning authorities' budgets have resulted in increasing difficulties in both the public and private sectors, with the latter frustrated by the decline in local authority planning services in some places.
- Further, the lack of proactive plan-making due to limited capacity is likely to result in fewer projects coming forward, particularly public-private partnerships, often with a regeneration agenda.
- Local planning authorities have responded to these pressures in varying ways. They can be broadly characterised as either 'striving', 'surviving' or 'struggling'. In the majority of cases, local planning services are surviving on the goodwill and professional integrity of the officers, but this may not be sustainable.
- The danger now is that further reductions in budgets could exacerbate a cycle of decline in more authorities, so further impacting on delivery and development.
- At the same time, it is crucial to recognise that planning services are an increasingly significant source of income for authorities, through application fees and the New Homes Bonus. However, this positive contribution is often not reflected in the funding provided to planning services.
- A range of measures are required to enable 'striving' authorities to maintain and even improve high standards of delivery, support 'surviving' authorities who have the potential to perform better, and focus resources on 'struggling' authorities to address and reverse the causes of decline.
- Most obviously, this will require greater reinvestment in public sector planning. This could either be done directly, through local authorities prioritising reinvestment from sources of planning income, or indirectly, through drawing on support from organisations such as the Planning Advisory Service and the RTPI.
This would help to ensure that planning services are put on a more stable footing, local development is promoted, and the UK Government's priorities for planning in England, focusing on the delivery of housing and development and increasing the coverage of local plans, are realised.