Competitiveness White Paper: Planning pleas: Concern over proposal for 'fast-track' decisions

DEVELOPERS should be able to pay local councils to get a rapid decision for or against major planning applications, the White Paper proposes.

The payments would allow council planning chiefs to recruit extra staff to help weigh up the pros and cons of a large proposed development. In return, the council would have to guarantee a timetable for making a decision on the application.

There are fears, however, that paying for 'fast-track' planning decisions could be seen as prejudicing councils towards granting permission that would otherwise have been refused.

The Royal Town Planning Institute said the proposal was 'fundamentally misguided' and 'could raise questions about propriety'. But the Association of Metropolitan Authorities gave it a guarded welcome.

The Government believes applications for big developments such as shopping, industrial and office complexes which could boost economic growth should not be held up for months awaiting planning permission.

Yet such developments demand thousands of hours of work by planning officers, investigating their impact on the environment, the local road network, and so on.

At present, developers have to pay a fee for their applications which varies according to the size and type of the development. The maximum, pounds 10,500, is not enough to cover even half the cost of processing a major proposal.

Philip Swan, of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, said: 'There's some merit in the Government's proposal, but paying for a fast-track decision must not become confused with being paid to say 'yes'.'