Money Back Guarantee for Planning?

money-back-guaranteeThe Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 introduced several measures to speed up the planning process.  We have recently reviewed a report by Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research on the impact of the “Planning Guarantee” element. It confirms our experience, that whilst the introduction of a negative incentive has triggered reform in many areas, there is also a real risk that decisions are taken badly as authorities seek to resist losing funds.

The Planning Guarantee requires local planning authorities (LPAs) to refund fees for planning applications not decided within 26 weeks (unless there is an agreed extension). It also allow applicants to apply directly to the Secretary of State where an LPA is designated as poorly performing – because it does not determine 30% of applications within 13 weeks, or more than 20% of its decisions on major applications are overturned on appeal.

The report confirms that the targets have had both positive and negative impacts on LPA processes.  While some LPAs have reviewed their practices and improved their service, in other LPAs the targets have led to perverse results.

  • Some of the more successful authorities have reviewed their processes alongside feedback to focus on good customer service. This approach is often accompanied with detailed pre-application discussions, including the preparation of section 106 agreements before Committee. However, this approach received mixed responses from the parties surveyed, with some complaining of increased costs and timescales, while others found this approach helpful.
  • Other consultees reported a willingness by some authorities to refuse applications and request new applications rather than miss a target or risk the return of the application fee. They noted a greater likelihood of unresolved issues being pushed back into conditions rather than being dealt with pre-decision.
  • Some responses questioned the helpfulness of targets, which do not identify re-submitted applications, or appeals of decisions on non-major applications.
  • Some respondents also reported particularly slow further progress if a target is misssed.
  • Responses also stated that a high number of approvals within the target time did not necessarily correlate with a higher rate of starts and completions.

For more details on our review, please see the full article on LexisPSL website.

Lucy McDonnell

About Lucy McDonnell

Lucy acts for both public and private sector clients in relation to planning, procurement and public law. Planning work includes advising developers, local authorities and community groups.

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