Can planning authorities keep pace with the Northern Powerhouse?

This month, a detailed report has been released looking at the impact of staffing and resource cuts to local planning authorities in the North West. The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) commissioned engineering firm Arup to prepare the report, which found that there had been significant reductions in local planning authority budgets and staffing since 2010, which has impacted on the number of public-private partnerships coming forward.

The report classifies planning authorities in three ways: striving, surviving or struggling, and observed that while most councils are managing to hit Government targets for the determination of planning applications, the whole process, end-to-end, is taking much longer in some authorities.

It is no secret that councils across the country are facing significant cuts, but, as the report states, investment and development is important in generating revenue for local authorities and for the success for the Northern Powerhouse as a whole. Remarkable wrote about this very subject in March, suggesting that cuts to planning departments has meant councils are missing out on huge the investment opportunities created by large developments.

With George Osborne pushing ahead to attract investment in the larger cities and regions, the idea is that smaller, neighbouring authorities will benefit as investment trickles down from city centres. But, as of now, this doesn’t seem to be working, with the report highlighting that most ‘struggling’ councils do not have an up-to-date Local Plan. If the Northern Powerhouse is to reach its potential and achieve this trickle-down effect, then it is important for all areas to be in a position to work with developers and investors successfully, and have policies in place, such as Local Plans, to help guide investment to where it is most needed.

Finally, the report states that the Government and organisations like the RTPI should emphasise the link between revenue sources, such as the New Homes Bonus, and how they can be reinvested back into planning system. It will be interesting to see what the Government offers as a solution to the problems detailed above. It would be to the benefit of the entire Northern Powerhouse project if all councils are able to attract investment positively, rather than developers continuing to go to areas that are already ready to attract investment.

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