Major application determination times in Bristol take 27 weeks, over double government target

  • Major planning submission determination times in Bristol are faster than London
  • South Gloucestershire is a star performer taking just 14 weeks to approve major planning applications
  • Across the UK, 55 per cent of LPAs surveyed say under-resourcing is now a significant challenge
  • 65 per cent of applicants in the UK are happy to pay more to shorten waiting times

The average time taken to determine major planning applications in Bristol and the surrounding area is 27 weeks, down 13 per cent from 29 weeks in 2013-2014, according to the fourth Annual Planning Survey from the British Property Federation and GL Hearn, part of Capita plc.

Overall approval rates in Bristol and the surrounding area rose 4 per cent year-on-year to an average of 86 per cent, slightly above London’s average of 84 per cent. North Somerset approved every major application whilst South Gloucestershire and Bristol City also approved in excess of 90 per cent over the past 12 months.

The survey also found a 0 per cent change in the number of major application determinations, with 88 per cent being approved. However, although major applications stayed flat in Bristol and the surrounding area, there are variations amongst Local Planning Authorities. Whilst Bristol City has remained relatively stable (-2 per cent), declines in North Somerset and Bath (-12 per cent and -19 per cent respectively) have been counterbalanced by strong growth in South Gloucestershire with determinations up from 27 to 44 (+63 per cent).

South Gloucestershire not only grew in terms of the volume of major planning applications determined, but also saw a 60 per cent reduction in typical determination times, down to just 14 weeks. Across the UK, South Gloucestershire came joint second fastest alongside Tameside and Newham for time taken to determine major planning applications. Sutton was the quickest area, taking just 13 weeks.

When looking at reasons for the length of time it takes to approve major planning applications, both developers and local authorities across the UK identified a lack of resource within planning departments as a key barrier to development. The majority of developers believe higher planning fees might be part of a potential solution, helping local authorities shorten waiting times and improve performance.

Both public and private sector respondents to the survey expressed concern with the lack of resources available to local planning authorities. Over half (55 per cent) of local authorities across the UK say under-resourcing is a significant challenge and half (50 per cent) believe the planning system is not operating as well as it was in 2010.

Across the UK a significant 75 per cent of applicants were dissatisfied with the length of time a planning application takes – up from 71 per cent last year. The survey found that approximately two thirds (65 per cent) of applicants in the UK would be happy to pay more to shorten waiting times.

Commenting on the findings of this year’s Annual Planning Survey, Tony Clements, GL Hearn’s Regional Head of Residential Planning, said:

“Local Planning Authorities in Bristol and the West of England should be commended for their efforts to keep the planning process moving forward. The survey highlights South Gloucestershire as a ‘star performer’, and the average time to determination across Bristol and the surrounding area decreased overall. The performance compares favourably to average determination times achieved in the capital. However, the time taken is still double the government’s target and this year’s survey highlights the need for more resources to support performance objectives.

“It should be a national objective to ensure that planning authorities across the country have the right people with the right skills and powers in place to drive forward a growth agenda – and that the system is able to release the right resources when needed. For their part, developers need to speak with a single voice – and make it clear what levels of service they need and how much they are prepared to pay for it.

“There is an urgent need to find bold new solutions to this shared challenge. Further streamlining of the system may well be part of the solution but to get Britain planning to enable growth requires comprehensive investment and collaboration. This is an industry-wide issue that needs tackling; the public and private sectors have a joint responsibility to ensure that the planning system can operate to support and deliver rather than stifle economic growth.”

Melanie Leech, chief executive at the British Property Federation, commented:

“This report shows quite clearly that local authority planning departments are struggling to cope as a result of the efforts to find savings across the public sector, and that this is having a negative impact on local authorities’ ability to deliver a timely and efficient service.

“The fact of the matter is that an effective planning system is crucial to enabling regeneration and development, and if government wants to meet the housing challenge and develop the commercial buildings that support our economy, it is going to need to take action.

“The report shows that there is potentially scope for the private sector to plug this gap, and we urge the government to begin a dialogue with the property industry to see how this might be taken forward.”