The ‘Evening Standard’s’ Peter Bill reports;
“New figures reveal that Westminster City planning officers are each obliged to process 50% more applications than four years ago, because of staff cuts and a 30% rise in planning submissions — a situation a leading developer attacked today as “untenable”.
The newly elected chairman of the Westminster Property Association, Dan Van Gelder of Exemplar, spoke out at the association’s annual lunch today. “Westminster are striving to ensure the rise in workload does not lead to delays, but let’s face facts, it will. I think we all appreciate that this is untenable,” he said.
“Westminster City Council remains within the depths of continuing austerity, with budget cuts and ever-tightening resources leading to redundancies and pay freezes — they are already in year four of this now with no end in sight,” said Van Gelder, whose company has sold almost all the 235 flats in a huge development on the old Middlesex Hospital site north of Oxford Street.
Figures provided by the association show that in 2009 the council processed 10,000 applications. This year, the number is likely to reach 13,000. Eleven of the 62 planning officers remain in their jobs only because their wages are indirectly paid by developers under Planning Performance Agreements.
The council will guarantee a submission be dealt with in a fixed period of time by a dedicated planning officer in return for a payment of £26,000. Larger developers now routinely use Planning Performance Agreements, which have raised £2 million since 2009, saving the 11 jobs.
“This is very much a temporary arrangement to help Westminster through troubling times,” warned Van Gelder, who said central government should accept that planning departments should be allowed to charge many more applicants and become “inherently profitable”.
“Should we treat the cost of a planning application as a development cost? Or one which should be paid out of general taxation?” he asked. “It is a debate we are having but to me, when considering a major application, it is a small price to pay, and benefits every one of us and every one of our clients.”