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Adam Hesse

Aston Mead herald ‘worst planning environment in a generation’, as local authority plans are delayed yet again

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Leading land agents Aston Mead say the current planning environment is the worst they have had to work in since their business was founded over 20 years ago.

Aston Mead Land & Planning Director Adam Hesse explained: “Without doubt, this is the worst planning environment we’ve had to face in a generation. The system was already unfit for purpose before Covid struck. But since then, three key factors have emerged to make a bad situation even worse.

“Firstly, and most recently, the biggest blow has come from the Government itself, with reports that it has scrapped plans for a standalone planning bill, which would have delivered many of the proposals in the white paper. This, on top of the Prime Minister’s comments at last year’s Conservative Party Conference about not building on greenfield sites has meant several local authorities have put a halt to their Local Plans, saying that they now need more direction from the top.

“One of our clients has recently received notice of withdrawal of the publication version of their regional authority’s Local Plan, which had been submitted to the Secretary of State back in 2019. He’s been told that the lack of new guidance from the government has made the council reluctant to go any further.

“Secondly, there are difficulties at the Local Authority level, who are finding every reason to kick the issue into the long grass. This means that the planning process has almost ground to a halt. Ideally, planning applications should be heard in eight to twelve weeks – but most cases we are dealing with are taking at least three months to get validated, and then at least six months to get a result. In fact, we are still waiting for decisions on a number of our sites after more than a year and there are even some that have been stuck in the system for three years now!

“Even if the assigned planning officer supports an application, councillors will often refuse it for political reasons. We have never seen so many sites go to appeal – a process which used to take six months but is now taking up to a year.

“Finally, there are all the usual problems like underfunding, lack of staff, and demoralisation. Added to which, we are still witnessing a public sector reluctance to get back to the office, which slams the brakes on even further.

“Overall, this toxic combination of factors has created a perfect storm, where we now risk local plans having to be rewritten or more research carried out because the current evidence is out of date.

“This could add years to the whole process. But in the meantime, if there aren’t enough brownfield sites available, more greenbelt land will have to be released, in order to catch up. So, the net result will mean more building on greenfield sites, not less!”