Local communities hold the least power in the planning process and central government and developers hold the most, according to a survey of councillors across the UK.
The research, commissioned by the National Trust, also found that councillors believed the planning system had become too weighted in favour of developers at the expense of local communities and that it was hard for residents to influence the process.
The National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out government policy on planning in England, promised to allow “people and communities back into planning”.
But according to the research by the think tank, the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), councillors were not convinced that the NPPF was putting communities at the heart of the process. The LGiU said:
“There is a clear view that the planning system is controlled too much from the top and that too much power is in hands of central government and developers. Local people and their representatives are relatively disempowered.”
The findings support complaints often made by opponents of onshore oil and gas developments that they struggle to have an equal voice to government or developers in planning decisions.
Power in planning
According to the findings:
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “The current planning system is too top-down.”
More than half (58%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “It is easy for residents in my ward to influence the planning process”.
Nearly three-quarters (71%) agreed or strongly agreed that “the planning system has become too weighted in favour of developers at the expense of local communities”.
Asked who held the most power in the planning process, 52% of respondents said it was the government, followed by 26% who said developers.
Asked who held the least power in the planning process, 80% of respondents said it was residents.
Comments made by councillors included:
“Local people feel their views are no longer taken into consideration as applicants can go straight to Central Government to get refusals over-turned”
“Very difficult to control developers & especially amateur developers – whole process skewed away from democratic and planning committee control.”
Asked whether their planning authority was adequately resourced, half said no, 36% said yes and 14% didn’t know. Some suggested this had implications for enforcing planning conditions.
“There appears to be a national shortage of planning officers”
“It is difficult for planning authorities to cope with fluctuations in the work load and meeting the time limit deadlines imposed on them”
“I believe we are under resourced in terms of officers to consider applications and enforce planning conditions”
“As a result of funding cuts there is a dire lack of staffing resources to provide anything other than a rudimentary enforcement regime”
The LGIU surveyed all ward councillors across England between August 2016 and October 2016. The findings are based on responses from 1,278 councillors.