Pilots to test introducing competition in the planning process
In a surprise move just before Christmas 2015, the government introduced an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill 2015 intended to allow pilots to test introducing competition in the processing (but not determination) of planning applications.
On 5 January 2015, during the first session of the report stage of the Bill, planning minister Brandon Lewis said, “…the Government are bringing forward new clauses 43 to 46 and new clause 75 to test the benefits of introducing competition in the processing of planning applications. New clause 43 would give the Secretary of State the power, by regulation, to introduce pilot schemes for competition in the processing of applications for planning permission.
"Let me be clear: this is about competition for the processing of applications, not their determination. The democratic determination of planning applications by local planning authorities is a fundamental pillar of the planning system, and that will remain the case during any pilot schemes that the Secretary of State brings forward. Let me also be clear that new clause 43 would require that any pilot schemes brought forward by the Secretary of State will be for a limited period specified in regulations.
“New clause 44 provides that regulations may set out how any pilot schemes should operate. New clause 45 provides that regulations may include provision for the setting, publishing and charging of fees by designated persons and planning authorities in the pilot areas, and for the refunding of fees in specific circumstances. It would also provide for the Secretary of State to intervene when he considers that excessive fees are being charged.”
He suggested that this move would “…lead to a more efficient and effective planning system, better able to secure the development of the homes and other facilities that our communities need and want. Introducing choice for the applicant enables them to shop around for the services that best meet their needs. It will enable innovation in service provision, bringing new resources into the planning system and driving down costs while improving performance.”
However, Labour MP Helen Hayes, a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said "This clause is potentially very damaging. It weakens the accountability of local planning services and it removes with one hand the fees which the Government is enabling local authorities to raise with another. Fundamentally, it's a solution to a symptom of the problem of the disproportionate effect of local government cuts on planning departments. This is a symptom which we alleviated by the proper resourcing, which a system of new planning fees will facilitate. So I urge the Government to rethink this proposal, which simply undermines local planning departments."
Shadow Planning Minister Roberta Blackman-Woods suggested that allowing alternative providers could generate corruption and conflicts of interest.
The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) pointed out that “As drafted, it has some potentially complex and wide ranging consequences. In particular it is very unclear to the Institute what problem this provision is trying to solve?”
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