The NAO’s report says that a shortage of both financial and human resources was a major issue in delivering new homes with the number of local authority planning staff fell by 15% between 2006 and 2016. Total spending by local authorities on planning functions fell 14.6% in real terms between 2010/11 and 2017/18, while ‘core funding; had fallen a dramatic 37.9% per cent in the same time period.
The report confirms that the percentage of major residential applications determined on time had improved, however it contests that this might reflect a greater use of agreed extensions to timescales rather than increased efficiency. It also cites that the measurements do not include time spent on pre-application work.
Allen Creedy, senior partner with ethical partnership said;
“The NAO report confirms what everyone involved in the planning process knows: a lack of resources at all levels is the principle driver causing a delay in the delivery of houses.”
The report confirms that there were also delays with the Planning Inspectorate; with the time being taken to determine housing appeals lengthening significantly between 2013/14 and 2017/18, despite a fall in the number of appeals. The report confirms that the inspectorate is failing to meet many of its statutory targets and has seen a reduction in staff numbers of 13% between 2010 and 2018.
Allen commented that:
“All parts of the public sector are under-resourced – it’s quite clear that politicians both nationally and locally do not recognise the extent of the shortage of staff and skills in planning – quite clearly we need a debate about the role and status of planning professionals across local and central government as well as in the Planning Inspectorate. Planners’ role and value has been eroded and downgraded over the last 10 years or so, to the point that we struggle to motivate, reward and retain enough people with the right knowledge, understanding, skills, attitude and values.”
The professional institute for planners (The Royal Town Planning Institute) welcomed the NAO report and has followed with its own publication reinforcing the NAO conclusions. It found that under-resourcing in local authorities, coupled with government reforms, had led to a climate of “reluctant outsourcing” which meant planning had become a regulatory, reactive function. Hardly surprising that criticisms of planning for failing to deliver quality spaces and places are so widely held.
The NAO report confirms that the National Planning Policy Framework, published in July 2018, was an important step in streamlining planning policy – but it was too far early to say when the changes it introduced would be effective – if at all!
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