Privatising the Planning Processors

Clive Betts MP

Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee Clive Betts MP (Labour) has accused the UK Government of seeking to “undermine the integrity of the planning system in England”. Writing for Local Government Chronicle, Betts highlighted the inclusion in the Housing & Planning Bill which will allow developers to select from a list of approved planning processors who will manage their application through the planning system rather than it being a decision for local government officials.

The aim of the change is to speed up the planning process and encourage developers to seek out the most appropriate planning processor for their scheme avoiding the current scenario of some district officers being inexperienced at handling large and complex applications, but Betts warns that creating a market for the services will not ensure good practice and instead lead to a battle over pricing. He even predicts to arrival of no win/no fee planners.

A further important factor which this change could bring about is to the rapport and relationship between planning committee members and the officer presenting the case. There are already wide variations in attitudes with some planning committees deferential to their officers while others intent on robustly interrogating the case for development. However, in both scenarios there is a knowledge of the personalities involved on both the officer and elected member side. Under the proposed legislation it is possible that the first time the Planning Processor and committee members met will be at the point of decision. Could this make authorities more sceptical of their recommendation? Could it provide the Planning Processor with the confidence to make their case in a stronger sense without the context of previous applications in front of the same committee?

As developers make their decision on who to select, they would do well to give thought not just to technical expertise, but also to public speaking and rapport building if they are to win the emotional battleground of the Planning Committee.