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Investing in Delivery I: How We Can Respond to the Pressures on Local Authority Planning in North West England

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
. Another phase of this research was conducted in 2018 (see here).

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.

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