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Pay councils to speed up planning, say developers

The British Property Federation has called for planning laws to be applied differently to allow developers to sponsor the progress of applications through the planning process. By Mark Lewis and Simon Ellery

The proposal to allow developers to give money to local authorities has raised questions about the possible erosion of public probity, but in its Planning Manifesto, the BPF said the measures were necessary to deliver new homes and other large developments.

Jonathan Seager, BPF senior policy officer, said local governments could divert developer cash contributions to other parts of the planning operation to allow a speedy resolution to core planning applications.

The conditions of the contribution should come as the result of negotiation between the local authority and developer, he said. But the framework for a deal might include using the cash to outsource smaller decisions, while guaranteeing a senior planning officer takes charge of a developer’s application.

Such deals and contributions are not illegal and are already used by some authorities. But fears about probity means they are used sparingly, and Seager called on central government to take a lead on recommending an increase in their use.

But Paul Miner, senior planning officer for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said there were good reasons why these deals were rare.

“Planning is a public service to work in the wider public interest,” he said, “and not to serve the interests of particular developers. The proposal could compromise the integrity of the planning process and that is why local authorities have not gone down that route.”

Jim Dowd, MP for Lewisham West, who led the inquiry by a committee of MPs into the future of the high street with special focus on supermarkets and planning, said: “It sounds deeply suspicious to me.

“The idea that those developers with the deeper pockets might get some kind of fast-track treatment sounds bizarre and improper to me.

“There could be the assumption that they might get preferential treatment.”

Mr Seager said local councils were responsible enough to take decisions based upon the merits of individual cases, and in the absence of sufficient funding there needed to be mechanisms put in place to speed up the progress of applications.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the BPF, said: “Our recommendations are designed to make the best use of what we have, mostly without the need for legislation or substantial extra local authority funding.”