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Two reports highlight concerns over planning cuts

06 October 2015

New reports highlight threats to economic prosperity due to planning cuts


RTPI launched two studies today that highlight the threats to economic recovery and housing delivery if resources of local planning departments are not protected.

Janet Askew, President of the RTPI, said:

“These two reports reflect the resourcing challenge we are hearing about from local planning authorities and developers across the UK. The clear danger is that further reductions in budgets could exacerbate a cycle of decline in more authorities, and therefore reduce further planners’ ability to help to deliver vital development.”

North West

New research undertaken in the North West region and carried out by Arup has found that average cuts in planning staff of more than 30% in local planning authorities over the past five years is now undermining economic recovery across the region. In many cases, local planning services are surviving on the “goodwill and professional integrity” of their officers, but this may not be sustainable in the longer term. The region’s future ability to deliver homes, schools, hospitals and other major infrastructure is being put at risk.

Unless this trend is reversed or new ways are found to respond to these challenges, the area will also be prevented from taking full advantage of the opportunities that will arise from the creation of a Northern Powerhouse.

Joanne Harding, Chair of the North West region of the RTPI, said:

“Planning authorities across the North West are doing everything they can to improve the quality of their service, despite very significant funding cuts. We need greater reinvestment in planning services from sources such as the New Homes Bonus and other related income. This would help put planning services on a more stable footing at a critical time for the North West.”

Investing in Delivery: How we can respond to the pressures on local authority planning, found that although the time taken to determine applications is often still good, there are indications that there are increasingly delays in pre-application advice, S106 agreements and discharge of conditions. It also finds that local planning authorities provides a significant source of income for councils, but this positive contribution is often not reflected in the funding that planning services get.


In Scotland, the report Progressing Performance: Investing in Scotland’s Planning Service finds a significant decrease in resources in the planning service.  Despite this, progress is being made in improving performance but it warns that there is need to invest in the planning service if we are to increase the pace of house building across the country.

Key findings and recommendations:  

  • there has been close to a 20% reduction in planning department staff in Scotland since 2010.
  • gross expenditure in planning authorities will have dropped by £40 million between 2010/11 and 2015/16
  • the cost of processing planning applications are not met by fees – on average only 63% of costs are covered  
  • despite the loss of resources, average processing times for local planning applications have shortened by a week since 2013
  • there is adequate investment in the planning system and that innovative income generating strategies are explored to cover costs
  • improving planning performance should remain a priority
  • there is a need to de-clutter existing processes and procedures and to support  planning authorities to continue to assess how their services are delivered to adapt to a changing resource context

Pam Ewen, Convenor of RTPI Scotland, said:

“Planning is a vital player in supporting sustainable growth across Scotland. This is especially true in helping to stimulate and deliver new, quality housing at a time when it is needed most.  Our report shows that we have seen planning authorities across Scotland being innovative and improving the quality of their service, despite significant resourcing issues.

“However, if we want continued progress we need to explore how to maximise investment in the planning service from the Scottish Government, local authorities and developers. This research I am sure will provide valuable information to the new review of the planning system.”

Actions needed

Actions are needed to ensure public sector planning can effectively support delivery and development. This will require greater reinvestment in public sector planning services, alongside the continuation and further development of strong relationships between the public and private sector. 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 (PAS) and the RTPI.