Government proposals may encourage councils to refuse neighbourhood plan bids, report says

Out-Law News | 27 Aug 2014 | 3:48 pm | 1 min. read

UK government proposals to introduce a time limit on councils for deciding neighbourhood plan applications may put strain on planning departments and encourage the refusal of bids, council planners have said, according to a report in Planning Magazine.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) opened its 'technical consultation' (98-page / 475 KB PDF) into proposed further planning reforms last month. Among the proposed changes was the introduction of a 70-day time limit for local planning authorities to determine applications to designate an area for a neighbourhood plan in certain circumstances.

Under the proposals, local authorities will still be required to accept representations in relation to an application for six weeks. According to the Planning Magazine report, planning professionals from several local authorities have raised concerns that the four weeks that would be available to councils to decide applications following representations would be insufficient in cases that were not straightforward.

Stroud District Council head of planning Phil Skill told Planning Magazine that the time limit would encourage councils to refuse applications where substantive objections were raised, in order to meet the deadline for decisions.

"It means we have got quite a short time limit to do the work," said Rosemarie MacQueen, strategic director of the built environment at Westminster City Council, according to the report, "not forgetting there's been very limited resource allocation from DCLG to local authorities trying to deal with neighbourhood planning."

Northampton Borough Council planning officer Eleanor Gingell said that the ten-week  deadline would be "challenging", a description echoed by Stephen Tapper of public sector planning professional representative body Planning Officers Society."It takes a lot of careful consideration before agreeing to a neighbourhood plan area," said Tapper, "especially if it has implications for sites being considered for development by the planning authority."

The DCLG said that the intention behind the proposals was "to incentivise improvements in the administration of the process" of deciding applications for designation. It estimated that "local planning authorities are taking on average 126 days to designate a neighbourhood area" but noted that some decisions had taken only 45 days or as many as 400.

The consultation is open until 26 September.