Do councils have enough resources to keep up with development pressures?
As we head into a deepening housing crisis, the need to build more homes is ever more apparent. Experts such as Shelter say that we need to be building upwards of 250,000 homes a year to meet rising demand in England alone. Add this to the fact that many declining towns and cities are in urgent need of regeneration and you can appreciate the pressures currently facing local authorities up and down the country. But how well-placed are they to cope?
Back in October 2015, a report released by the British Property Federation and property consultants GL Hearn described this country’s planning system as being ‘on the brink’. The reason for this was their finding that the average time taken to determine a major planning application currently stands at 32 weeks, more than double the government’s target of 13 weeks. They also suggest that cuts to local budgets are a significant causal factor, where under-resourcing was cited by 55% of local authorities as being a major obstacle to growth.
Another report released by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) in the same month serves to bolster these findings. Looking at research undertaken in the North West region, it found that local planning services had seen a 30% reduction in staff since 2010. The report highlights that this has undermined economic recovery in the region. Whilst local planning services have been able to survive on the ‘goodwill and professional integrity’ of staff, it suggests that the current situation is unsustainable.
Preparing for the future
These two reports paint a picture of a weakened planning system that is creaking under the strain of demand. Individual case studies such as that of Birmingham City Council highlight the situation very well. This local authority has earned a strong reputation for openness to investment opportunities and for being particularly proactive in securing development. Recently however, its Council Labour leader Sir Albert Bore has spoken of ‘lowering demand’ for services because of projected cuts over the years ahead.
In the face of these cuts, there is clearly an impetus to shape services into being as efficient as possible. Whilst councils clearly need more funds if they are to meet levels of demand, we must also look to creative solutions in order to survive an imperfect situation. For that reason we are proud to help contribute with the introduction of www.iapply.co.uk , the UK’s first online submissions system integrating planning and building control