Albeit that one man was asked to produce his report by the Prime Minster David Cameron no less.
So in No Stone Unturned: In Pursuit of Growth how would Michael Heseltine speed up planning decisions?
Remember this is someone, who, as a minister in the 1980s, famously said planners were “tying up jobs in filing cabinets”.
So it seems odd that planning has to wait until page 109 of the report, and is introduced with the clunking “one area is at the top of the growth agenda – planning!” And would anyone disagree that planning decisions are key to unlocking the infrastructure that we need for growth?
Through all this Heseltine’s basic point is that planning decision-making has a pedestrian pace that has a knock-on effect on the economy, so much so that he feels emboldened to repeat his famous “jobs in filing cabinets” line.
Heseltine thinks the Government’s planning reforms are on the right lines – but more could be done.
Firstly, by giving the Planning Inspectorate powers to call-in any planning application after six months that they deem to be being dealt with inefficiently.
Secondly, for any planning application not determined after three months the local planning authority should produce a clear and unbiased statement of what the issues are. This will help everyone understand what the issues are barring a decision. Heseltine sees this as galvanising local planning authorities and statutory consultees – but it could, equally, be embarrassing to foot dragging applicants.
It should then take no more than three months to iron out the issues. So after six months undecided applications should go before the Planning Inspectorate. What this means in terms of workload for the Inspectorate, or the loss of local decision making is not addressed.
The appeals process should be speeded up to have decisions within six months.
Overall, Heseltine sees just the threat of the Inspectorate, swooping in like some avenging angel, as a means to speed up the job local authority planners are paid to do. Planners that elsewhere in the report he describes as working in already “stretched planning departments”.
©Kirkwells Town Planners and Sustainable Development Consultants based at the Lancashire Digital Technology Centre in Burnley www.kirkwells.co.uk
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