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Pickles urges local authority planning departments to merge during Commons debate

Secretary of State Eric Pickles has urged local authorities to merge with adjoining authorities' planning departments when they "simply cannot cope", in a recent House of Commons debate.19 Sep 2012

Member of Parliament Hilary Benn criticised Pickles' recent proposal to allow developers to have their applications determined by the Planning Inspectorate where councils have a poor track record, which he said "astonished everyone".

"We all want speed, but when it comes to quality why does he think that he should decide what good decisions are, rather than locally elected councillors?" said Benn in the debate (at column 635).

"Our approach builds on a basic right—an applicant has a right to appeal on the basis of non-determination; it simply builds on that and is there to help local authorities," said Pickles. "In most cases, this is about where local authorities simply cannot cope, which is why we are urging mergers with adjoining authorities’ planning departments and why they will always find a friend to local planning in myself."

The debate followed a Government announcement that set out plans for legislation to give the Planning Inspectorate power to make decisions on planning applications. Under the proposals, the Planning Inspectorate would step in where a local authority has a track record of consistently poor performance in the speed or quality of its decisions.

"It is unfair to all parties for local planning authorities simply to fail to make timely decisions on a planning application - creating uncertainty both for applicants and local residents," said Pickles in the announcement.

The plans are part of a series of measures in a major housing and planning package announced by Government. They have been set out to help deliver up to new 70,000 homes, including affordable housing, 140,000 jobs and a £40 billion infrastructure guarantee.

The Secretary of State also confirmed that the Government will launch a consultation on additional Permitted Development rights. The confirmation came in response to a question by John Leech, who sought clarification that the relaxation of the rights would be restricted in conservation and other sensitive areas.

Leech was also concerned about the effect of the relaxation of the rights in "areas where family housing has come under attack from insensitive over-development of houses in multiple occupation". 

"We are going to be consulting on the matter, and my hon. Friend will get an opportunity to make a contribution," said Pickles.