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All stick and no carrot - New planning performance measures and a crackdown on the extension of time
Alongside the 19 December 2023 publication of the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP issued policy set out in a Written Ministerial Statement “The Next Stage in Our Long Term Plan for Housing, Update” regarding the NPPF and wider matters.
Lichfields’ blogs reflecting on the revised NPPF can be found here and blogs outlining and analysing policy announced in the WMS can be found here.
In a speech launching the revised NPPF and other national policy, new measures to monitor and improve planning performance were explained, building on announcements that accompanied the increase to planning fees.
“I am setting new expectations for faster delivery, strengthening accountability so poor performers can be better identified, taking further steps to enforce effective delivery of new housing where local authorities have failed most egregiously and putting other, failing, local authorities on notice of my intention to intervene if performance does not improve significantly”.
The measures to improve performance have been launched on “four fronts”: greater transparency, additional financial support, faster processes and direct action.
Several specific policy approaches and intentions fall under these four fronts, as explained below

LPA performance dashboards to be introduced

The Government is going to publish a Local Planning Authority (LPA) performance dashboard in 2024. The aim of the dashboard will be to clearly show which LPAs are underperforming and not meeting their targets. While it has not been explicitly outlined what criteria this will be based on, a reasonable assumption is that speed and quality of decision making will be the crux of the assessment.

Reducing use of the extension of time

It has also been outlined that the use of Extension of Time Agreements will be stripped back and a consultation will take place on limiting when in the process they can apply, prohibiting repeat agreements and banning their use entirely for householder applications. This reflects the Government’s desire to speed up decision making and tackle the backlogs of planning departments, but without having full addressed the lack of resourcing in LPAs. Therefore, there is a concern that this could lead to more refusals of planning permission. The loss of the “free go” means that the ability for developers and LPA officers to discuss the merits of a scheme post submission will be seriously diminished. The Government might say that pre-application discussions should be used for this process, but often there is no capacity to provide this service in a timely manner.


Planning fees must be spent on planning services

The Government has made clear that the increase to planning fees which came into force on 6 December 2023 is expected to coincide with an improvement in the performance of LPAs. Planning fees have increased by 35% for major applications and 25% for other applications. While fees have not been ringfenced for planning departments, Michael Gove has made clear that “Local authorities are obliged to spend these fees on planning services, and I am clear there should be no decrease in authorities’ spend on planning from their general fund”. Related to this, he made reference to the forthcoming local government finance settlement, which may be the only way to seek to control how LPAs spend planning fees in practice.
The Lichfields Insight Mo money, no problems? provides a detailed analysis of the changes to planning fees and the debates that surrounded them. The Insight notes the Government’s estimate that there will remain a funding shortfall of approximately £160 million annually, even after planning fees are taken into account. That is an important context for the planning performance measures outlined in this blog – notably the LPA performance dashboard and the intention to control and limit use of the extension of time process. 
The 180 LPAs that have been allocated a share of £14.3 million from the first round of funding from the Planning Skills Delivery Fund have been announced. The fund is designed to help clear application backlogs and provide LPAs with the skills needed to deliver the changes set out in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act.


Consultation on structured PPA procedures

The Government is also seeking to regularise Planning Performance Agreements so that they are offered across England, have clear deadlines in place and that fees are set at an appropriate level. Fees will also need to be refunded when targets are missed. A consultation will follow on this in the new year.


Discouraging councillors from refusing against officer recommendation

The SoS’s WMS expresses concern that there are too many instances of refusals against officer recommendations and too many consequent award of costs appeals. Notwithstanding the second concern, the SoS has already “reminded the inspectorate that where it cannot find reasonable grounds for the committee having overturned the officer’s recommendation, it should consider awarding costs to the appellant”.
The Planning Inspectorate will now monitor and report back cases to the Government where a successful appeal is made against a planning committee decision, and the appeal decision is the same as the original officer’s recommendation. This information will be used to “lay out the details of which local authorities are most promiscuously rejecting planning applications against officers’ advice. And we will make transparent the amount that it is costing the local council taxpayer”.
And while the SoS has made clear that he considers the determination of significant applications by elected representatives to be important, he also intends to “consider what more we can do to support planning officers and the committees they serve to focus on the right applications. This might be about providing more training, or using guidance to share best practice on the tools that can help to prioritise a committee’s time – including the schemes of delegation that authorities adopt to determine which applications get determined by officers and which warrant committee airing”.

Reviewing the role of statutory consultees

The Government has noted that many statutory consultees meet their 21 day deadline by sending holding responses, which “disguises foot-dragging and delays development”. A three month review will look into the wider statutory consultee system to understand how best to direct their advice and resources to support speedy and effective decision making. A potentially proactive way forward is mooted: the SoS considers that too much caution serves no one, so the review “will look at whether the current group of consultees is right, whether the performance reporting is effective, and whether the absence of a reply within an appropriate timeline should be treated as a green light, rather than a red one”.


Intervening in the plan-making process

The Secretary of State outlined that when LPAs are failing in their duty, he will not hesitate to intervene. Although this has been said before, on the day of the SoS’s announcements, letters were sent to seven LPAs directing them to revise their local plan timetables within 12 weeks of the publication of the new NPPF with the threat of further intervention after this should they fail to do so. Isabella Tidswell’s blog
analyses the implications of the changes to the NPPF and other national policies on plan-making.


Housing Delivery Test

The Government identifies the Housing Delivery Test as a form of direct action. Twenty further LPAs have become liable to the presumption in favour of sustainable development (set out in paragraph 11 of the NPPF) after the publication of the 2022 Housing Delivery Test.  The Housing Delivery Test’s consequences have changed somewhat, as explained in this blog.   


Designating LPAs so that certain applications may be made directly the SoS

The LPAs of Chorley and Fareham[1] were directly targeted as they have been designated as ‘Section 62A authorities’ based on their “poor quality of decision making for applications for major development”,  linked to the percentage of appeals which go against the LPA. For these designated councils in special measures, along with Uttlesford Council that was designated in 2022, applications for major development may be submitted directly to the Secretary of State, via the Planning Inspectorate, for determination. The Planning Inspectorate also receives the fee. Both LPAs will be required to produce improvement plans which set out how they will improve planning performance. Failure to do so may result in further direct intervention from the Secretary of State, albeit it is unclear what form that might take. The designation lasts indefinitely.
The SoS intends to review the thresholds for designation “to make sure to make sure we are not letting off the hook authorities that should be doing better”.

London Plan Independent Review Panel

The Secretary of State has requested a review of the London Plan to identify where changes to policy could speed up housing delivery. The Housing Minister told Parliament: “We are also taking action in London, because the homes needed by the capital are simply not being built and opportunities for urban brownfield regeneration go begging as a result of the Mayor’s anti-housing policy and approach. […] If directing change in London becomes necessary, this Government will do that”.

Closing thoughts

When taken together, the new performance measures announced in this Written Ministerial Statement represent a substantial shift in the way planning performance is monitored and driven, building on the measures previously announced.
As discussed in more detail here, it is clear throughout the revised NPPF and associated announcements that the Government is placing great emphasis on LPAs having up-to-date local plans and improving timescales for making decisions and proposed changes to performance metrics and the wider policy context reflect these fundamental objectives.
While these objectives are laudable and desirable, this latest tranche of performance measuring approach appear to be all stick and no carrot. However, if consequences are not followed through or are not of a concern to the LPA, then these policies will not have widespread effect.

[1] It is worth noting that Fareham is a local planning authority which has had to consider nitrate mitigation for housing developments, which may or may not have impacted on its performance.




Khan you do it like that? Or Cam you do it like this? Gove’s targeted housebuilding armament

Update 22 December 2023 - The Government has published the terms of reference and objectives for the panel of expert advisers who are to consider any changes to the London Plan which might facilitate housing delivery in London. This states that the Panel's report must be delivered by 15 January 2024.

Back in July 2023, when delivering his speech entitled the ‘Long-Term Plan for Housing’, Michael Gove said, in relation to housing under-delivery in London:
I also will not hesitate to act in the national interest when politicians fail.” […] “I reserve the right to step in to reshape the London Plan if necessary and consider every tool in our armoury – including development corporations.”
Five months later, the Secretary of State released a Written Ministerial Statement entitled 'The Next Stage in Our Long-Term Plan for Housing Update', which alongside other publications and announcements (such as the contents of the revised National Planning Policy Framework, December 2023, as you may have heard by now), contains some more information on some ‘tools in the armoury’ that are being used, not only in London, but elsewhere too, in a hope to deliver much needed housing.
This blog explores two targeted steps for two cities, from the Long-Term Plan for Housing Update:

    1. Ordering a review of the London Plan to examine factors that could be causing housing under-delivery in the capital, and threatening intervention if the necessary actions are not taken.

    2. Establishing a Development Corporation in Cambridge to help realise plans for ‘Cambridge 2040’, alongside a revised building regulation to allow local planning authorities to introduce tighter water efficiency standards in new homes, to ensure “an approach towards water that reflects the nature of Cambridge’s geography.”

Independent Review of the London Plan

In a letter to Sadiq Khan, published during Michael Gove’s address to the Royal Institute of British Architects on the 19 December (but issued to the Mayor on 18 December), the Secretary of State announced the appointment of an expert panel to conduct a review of the London Plan to consider “aspects of [it] which could be preventing thousands of homes being brought forward, with a particular focus on brownfield sites”.
The panel comprises Christopher Katkowski KC, Cllr James Jamieson, Paul Monaghan and Wei Yang. Lichfields is pleased to have been appointed to support the Panel, working alongside DLUHC officials.
The Secretary of State's letter includes as a response to the recommendations of the Mayor's London Housing Delivery Taskforce, prepared after Mr Gove first suggested possible intervention in the first ‘Long-Term Plan for Housing’ speech in July 2023[1]. In that speech, the Secretary of State also announced his ambitions for ‘Docklands 2.0’ as a 3,500-home eastern extension to the city, citing development corporations and the power to reshape the London plan as ‘tools in the armoury’ to make this happen.
In the letter on the 19 December, Mr Gove re-states the threat of intervention, saying, in one line:
If you cannot do what is needed to deliver the homes that London needs, I will.”
This back and forth over housing delivery has been described by London newspapers - the London Evening Standard and CITY.AM - as a political “row” between the Mayor and the Secretary of State on the undersupply of housing in London. However, it is common ground between the Mayor and the SoS that the pace of housing delivery in the capital needs to increase.
The long awaited 2022 HDT results reveal that over half of the London planning authorities (18 of 35 [2]) will now be subject to the policy consequences set out in the December 2023 revised NPPF. Nearly three quarters (13) of the 18 failing the HDT have underdelivered by at least 25% of their requirement. They will therefore be subject to the application of the presumption in favour of sustainable development, the inclusion of the 20% buffer on 5YHLS (except for those authorities with an up-to-date local plan) and the preparation of an action plan. For a more detailed explanation of the housing delivery test’s new policy consequences, see Harry Bennett’s blog.
The focus of the independent review will be to explore the relationship between the policies of the London Plan and the pace at which new homes are being brought forward and developed on brownfield land.

Mr Gove and Mr Rowley both said - in their respective 19 December written and oral statements to Parliament - that “opportunities for urban brownfield regeneration [in London] go begging” as a result of under-delivery. However, the Mayor has identified a significant number of housing starts and the GLA argues[3], based on the findings of the Housing Delivery Task Force’s August report, that a general lack of 2021-26 Affordable Homes Programme funding available to London, coupled with a lack of certainty around funding beyond 2026, means affordable housing developers lack the certainty they need to bring forward complex schemes, including estate regeneration[4].
On the topic of grant funding and affordable housing, he SoS suggested in his RIBA speech that affordable housing policy for residential developments in the London Plan is a barrier to delivery due to viability. The perceived impact of high affordable housing targets is not a new concern, and one held by a number of those in the development industry.


Development Corporation to be set up in Cambridge

No independent review of housing or economic development delivery is proposed for Cambridge. Instead, the Government is following up on an announcement earlier in the year on its ambitious housing and industry plans for ‘Cambridge 2040’, in a bid to make the city the Science capital of Europe.
Back in July, this involved the establishment of a ‘Cambridge Delivery Group’ to help realise this vision. It was also announced that the Delivery Group would be supported by a “super-squad of planners” to realise this ambition[5].
These plans have now been taken further, as Mr Gove’s Written Ministerial Statement confirmed the Government’s intentions to establish a new development corporation for Cambridge. The WMS continues (armament imagery strong still):
“[We will arm this development corporation] with the right leadership and full range of powers necessary to marshal this huge project over the next two decades, regardless of the shifting sands of Westminster.”
In response to Mr Gove’s announcement, the leaders of Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, and the Combined Authority Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough released a joint statement[6] the same day. In it, the council leaders express concerns around the prospects of the Secretary of State’s plans to deliver sustainable growth. They said:
“We note in the latest announcement that the number of new homes put forward by Rt Hon Michael Gove MP has come down from 250,000 to 150,000, but this is still substantially more than the over 50,000 homes we have identified as needed in the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan (to 2040) – a number which will already be incredibly challenging to bring forward. We are ambitious for high quality sustainable, green growth but can’t stress enough how vital it is that Government supports us to tackle the issues that will otherwise act as roadblocks to sustainable growth.”
The Secretary of State previously visited Cambridge in Summer 2023, after his July speech, to discuss the Government’s plans for Cambridge 2040.



The Secretary of State’s Written Ministerial Statement and related speech on 19 December, which announced the London Plan’s independent review and the proposed Cambridge development corporation, among many other England-wide interventions and policy changes indicate the Government is prepared to explore different tools in different locations in the interest of housing delivery. Lichfields will continue to monitor closely how the Government’s local interventions play out, with a particular interest in the success of such wholly different approaches taken in these two very different cities.


[1] See our Think Tank Blog The Government’s long-term plan for housing – what’s new?

[2] Including the London Legacy Development Corporation and the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation - HDT technical note says “for the local planning authorities whose boundaries overlap with a development corporation, for the periods that the local planning authority’s delivery is based on the London Plan or the Current Borough Plan, the net homes delivered in the development corporation are removed from the net additional dwellings statistics based on the data provided to the department by the Greater London Authority.”


[4] The recommendations of the Task Force, and government responses to these recommendations,  can be found here