“Planning controlled by government and developers”


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.”

Funding planning

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.


Respondents commented:

“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”

Survey details

The LGIU surveyed all ward councillors across England between August 2016 and October 2016. The findings are based on responses from 1,278 councillors.

Link to the LGiU report

9 replies »

  1. This survey is indicative of what we see in my LPA. As I have said several times on this BB, the NPPF and Localism are in direct conflict and the Localism Bill has been quietly swept under the carpet. The NPPF always over rules Localism – except with onshore wind turbines which was a Tory manifesto pledge, like shale gas exploitation. Local opinion does not appear to matter. Cuadrilla appeals, I-Gas Misson, Third Energy KM, and probably Egdon at appeal (unless British Steel can stop it). But it is not only oil and gas, housing and roads are the same.

  2. I think you need to be careful assessing this one.

    Localism is fine, if the local representatives have the competence and commitment to examine planning applications correctly. In some cases, I have seen planning applications for projects with an investment of way over £1billion, that have taken years for the applicant to generate huge amounts of data, and submitted it way before the final meeting. Then, during the final meeting you get one of the committee asking for clarification of such basic information as “what is a lorry movement?” There is no excuse for this, timescales are exceedingly generous. It may be their usual application relates to the colour and design of a cat flap.It does indicate the difficulties within the system, and I do not believe that localism can manage such projects without much greater control and direction from some organisations with more professional knowledge. Without that, there will just be more and more appeals and costs will spiral.

    Not sure why TTIP is relevant. After next week, it is due to be scrapped!

    • In the case of shale gas in Lancashire the local community put forward compelling reasons why Cuadrilla should not be allowed to proceed.

      Acoustic specialists, transport specialists, environmental consultants, planning lawyers, human rights specialists, geologists, engineers and many more gave evidence in objection to Cuadrilla’s proposals.

      Cuadrilla’s avoidance strategy and technical failings were available for all to see.

      Leasing 0.99 hectare sites to avoid environmental impact assessment was the first giveaway

      Not mentioning fracking in the first applications was futile.

      The Preese Hall events proved their technical inabilities.

      They did not see the need to conduct a 3D survey. They drilled through (or adjacent to) a fault and injected into it causing 50 seismic events and distorting long lengths of well casing.

      They then spent months trying to ignore their connection to the events.

      In 2014 Cuadrilla were looking for guidance from the HSE on when a cement bond log was required and who was responsible for the interpretation of the logs.

      When they finally conducted cement bond logs at least one was ‘questionable’

      They present themselves as professionals with experience.

      The Preese Hall failings seem to suggest not.

      The people of Lancashire exposed the shale industry of it’s intentions, it’s failings, and it’s avoidance of serious issues.

      The government and developers might have the upper hand in planning, but in the case of UK shale the real power lies with the local communities.

      • Exactly my point John, the elected Councillors listened to you at the 11th hour due to misleading last minute legal advice (FOE lawyers?). And what happened, Cuadrilla won the main appeal and got a second go at the other site due to SOS intervention.

        Don’t you think that if the Councillors had approved the site recommended by the planning officer in the first place (as the appeal ultimately did) Cuadrilla probably wouldn’t have appealed the second site which was recommended for refusal by the Planning Officer? Thats what I have heard in the industry.

        So you are in a worse position in the Fylde now than you would have been if the Councillors had listened to their Planning Officer in the first place.

          • We will never know for sure. But the idea was go for two sites, get one, drill, frack and test. See if the Preese Hall flow rate can be replicated. Take it from there based on results. Seems fairly logical. Now they have a chance for two sites thanks to the LCC refusal and appeal / SOS call in process.

            • A reminder of what is on the table for Lancashire

              Francis Egan CEO of Cuadrilla said “you need to understand the scale of this – this will be the largest gas field in the whole of Western Europe”.

              Every application will be opposed by communities.

              The results in Lancashire so far are that the people say no, the parish council say no. the district council say no, and the decision makers of Lancashire county council say no.

              About time this Government woke up and listened to the voice of the majority.

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