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Planning Absent From Top Table in 83% of Councils

A new RTPI survey has revealed that the council home planning role has been left to lower positions in local authorities across the UK.

The study found that a member of the top management team was ahead of planning in only 17% of all UK councils despite the fact that planning is a statutory function like education and social services.

Anecdote suggests that councillors are more apt to listen when planning advice comes from a senior member of the chief executive’s team. However, 83% of councils place planning up to three tiers below the chief executive, downplaying its importance as a function that helps councils deal with economic, social, and environmental issues.

The survey

The RTPI says that the effectiveness of council home planning is also negatively impacted when decisions are made separately from other policy areas.

RTPI Chief Executive Victoria Hills said that planning can deliver nearly all focus areas in a council’s corporate strategy. She urged more council chief executives to implement the right structure so that leaders can make important decisions from a well-rounded perspective.

Ms Hills pointed out that Brexit, tight resources, and other challenges make it especially important that councils include planners in their corporate decision-making so that their ability to make complex spending decisions is maximized. All too often, connected thinking is absent, with investment decisions being made without a wider perspective that could result in positive growth outcomes.

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Councillors have responded to the study results, insisting that council home planning is important but departments are not receiving the money they need.

LGA Housing spokesman Cllr Martin Tett said that councils understand how important planning is for communities and their residents and it was essential for communities to be able to oversee homes and environments in their area.

Cllr Tett said that planning was not a barrier to housebuilding, as councils approve 90% of all applications and want to ensure that residents have access to affordable housing. However, with councils everywhere facing a funding shortage of over £5 billion by 2020, the government must provide council planning departments with sufficient resources to cover the cost of processing the applications.

He said that planning fees need to become locally set. Councils are custodians of their local areas and understand the housing and environmental needs of their local areas better than anyone else, so they should be able to set a fee structure that matches the needs of their communities.

The RTPI study examined the management structure of over 200 local authorities throughout the UK. The results found that the head of planning is missing from the top table in 94% of Scotland’s councils and 77% of councils throughout Wales. In London, NW, and SE England, the numbers are 86%, 90%, and 78%.

Planners appear to have the highest status in Ireland, where 78% of councils have planning heads reporting directly to the chief executive.

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