Monday, 19 November 2012

Worst-performing Local Planning Authorities


I have already commented on Uncle Eric’s nonsensical proposals to take planning applications out of the hands of allegedly under-performing planning authorities, even though the applicants might prefer him not to.

It appears that the sole criterion by which De-CLoG proposes to measure the performance of LPAs is by the percentage of major applications determined within the target period. A less reliable measure of performance would be hard to devise. There are so many variable factors, many of them outside the control of the authority, which can influence the timing of a final decision in these cases.

However, taking this crude measure of performance, Planning magazine has identified the 25 authorities with the lowest percentages of major applications determined within the arbitrary target time. What is interesting about this list is that out of these 25 authorities, only 7 are Labour–controlled, whereas no fewer than 14 are Conservative-controlled (with no one party controlling the other 4). Does Uncle Eric really want to draw attention to the fact that twice as many Tory councils appear in this worst-performing group compared with Labour councils? Pickles named Haringey as the worst performer of any (after incorrectly identifying Hackney, who don’t actually appear in the first 25 at all). But which authority is the second worst in the whole country? It’s the true-blue Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, closely followed by one of the Tories’ Devon strongholds – Torbay. So, by this measure, two out of the worst three councils are Conservative flagships.

So what accounts for the fact that the performance of Tory-controlled authorities seems to be so much worse than that of Labour authorities in determining major applications? Could it be that Tory authorities have been more ruthless and enthusiastic in their cost-cutting, leaving their planning departments struggling to cope with their workload? It is becoming increasingly clear throughout the public sector that swingeing cuts are seriously affecting performance in all sorts of ways, not least because experienced staff with irreplaceable knowledge and expertise in their specialist fields have been lost through this process.

I confess that the whole of this post is written somewhat tongue-in-cheek, because the idea of using the time taken to determine major applications as a realistic or reliable measure of LPA performance is just plain daft. If De-CLoG were seriously intent on measuring performance in a meaningful way, they would use a whole range of indicators, of which the time taken to determine major applications would be only one (and not necessarily the most significant) factor.

We are rapidly approaching the pantomime season, and the government’s various cuckoo-brained ideas about ‘improving’ the performance of the planning system are in some danger of being mistaken for the script of one of these seasonal entertainments.

© MARTIN H GOODALL

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