Does the disparity between Planning Portal and MHCLG’s statistics highlight the increasing pressure local authorities are under?
At the end of March 2021, the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) published their latest statistics regarding planning application submissions between October and December 2020. Their data showed that planning authorities in England received 111,700 applications for planning permission, up 11 percent on the corresponding quarter of 2019. While the trends with this data mimic the data the Planning Portal have been seeing over the last few months, the numbers differ greatly.
Planning Portal reported in our monthly insight reports that there were more than 171,000 planning applications submitted to local authorities in England and Wales throughout this period.
The figures we are comparing are not exactly like-for-like. Our figures are based on the total number of applications submitted. MHCLG’s ‘received’ figure refers only to those applications that have been reviewed and validated to ensure all appropriate information has been provided and therefore are in the process of being determined by authorities.
In an effort to compare the difference in more realistic terms and make the data being analysed more similar, we deducted Welsh submissions (c.6,000) and Tree applications (c.20,500) for this quarter. After doing so, our figures still showed c.144.5K applications submitted, a near 30% difference.
30% is still a significant difference, so we investigated these reasons further. Local Authorities are continually under pressure to keep up with demand. The last year has undoubtedly thrown up some challenges and changed the entire way that Local Authorities have had to work; enabling their staff to work from home and implementing and embedding new digital processes in order to keep the planning system moving. With tight budgets and pandemic-related constraints, resources are stretched. The increased number of applications being submitted has further exacerbated these challenges. Working with the same level of resource, if not less than pre-pandemic, these authorities are dealing with far larger case-loads. The stretching of resources is contributing to ever-growing backlogs of work that are taking significant amounts of time to be processed.
As mentioned above, MHCLG’s data relates to applications ‘received’ and validated. As many will be aware, invalidation rates remain high (up to 50%). These high rates can happen for a number of reasons predominantly because incomplete information gets submitted, mainly due to missing or incomplete local-level planning requirements or missing mandatory location or associated plans. This large number of applications are then accounted for in later returns to MHCLG’s data, however, this does not provide a true representation of submitted applications, and but the resource that goes into getting applications validated is not accounted for or always recognised.
These figures highlight a potentially critical resource issue at local authorities. If the number of applications submitted keeps increasing, more resources will have to be sourced in order to process applications efficiently and effectively to meet application handling timeframes. Planning Portal are working closely with Local Authorities and applicants to help reduce the rate of invalidations, providing tools, guidance, and re-platforming our application service to provide new improvements planned in an effort to reduce and tackle these issues. This is part of our ongoing roadmap of improvement and remains key to our plans that will be delivered later this year. To follow our progress, please register for our webinar events detailed later in the report.
This month’s feature is looking at Householder ‘common projects’. We have seen an increased number in this application type. March 2021 saw 27,777 householder applications submitted which is the largest ever on record, 82 percent more than the same month last year. ThisisMoney.co.uk have reported on the number of independent home improvement firms that have seen business boom over the last year, citing working from home renovations and stamp-duty holidays as the reason. To support this further, we have included a contribution from Lisa Young, Category Director from Jewson who explains the impact the increased number of planning applications has had on the construction industry and supply chain. As always, the report also covers our regular insight with a deeper look at application fees, trends in application types and national and regional trends.
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