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Powers to remain with councils in planning application competition pilots

More control over pilot schemes to introduce greater competition into planning applications has been given to councils following an amendment agreed in the House of Lords.

The pilot schemes, where planners can choose between a local authority and another ‘approved provider’ to process applications in some circumstances, are included in the Housing and Planning Bill.

Conservative peer Baroness Evans said that her amendment aimed to create a “level playing field” by ensuring that alternative providers could process connected applications to the main application, which do not attract a fee, as well as fee-paying applications.

Baroness Evans said: “In Committee we heard a clear message from your Lordships that a decision on a planning application must be a democratic one by a local planning authority.

“Authorities cannot be allowed to delegate this decision to designated persons and nothing should bind the authority’s decision. We have always been clear that ​decision-making will remain with the authority in a pilot area.”

The amendment also sets a maximum period of five years for the pilot schemes, to allow time for controversial applications which will go through multiple appeals, and confirms that the pilots will only take place in discrete areas.

Labour peer Lord Beecham supported the amendment, saying that although he supported potentially outsourcing some planning applications as a means of reducing financial pressure on councils, such a decision should be left to councils.

He said: “There is of course a significant difference between a local authority contracting out a service when it chooses to do so and authorities being obliged to contract it out, especially when, as in this case, it will be the applicant who chooses the contractor.”

A list of which types of application can be processed by approved providers will be agreed at a later date.

The Lords have also introduced an amendment to the Bill allowing councils to decide the percentage of starter homes on new housing developments, following warnings that setting the level centrally could lead to council housing shortages.


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