A brief excursion into the Political Context of the planning process
After a previous article, “Not touching, can’t get mad”, I began to reflect on the idea of a potential N.I.M.B.Y. Index. This N.I.M.B.Y. Index could indicate which locations were most perceptible to nimbyist objections and influence. If this existed it could be an initial step to dusting off the layers of potential external influences on the development and planning process. In beginning to clear away these influences and thus being left with the core, or base, language of the planning system – the planning policy itself. We could then begin to finally interrogate it for it’s failings or successes.
I was reminded of these thoughts by the results of a recent survey of ward councillors, commissioned by the National Trust and carried out by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU). It was found that “72 per cent of councillors think that the planning system is too weighted in favour of developers, at the expense of local communities” (The Planner, Jan, 2017).There are clearly perceptions of influence on both sides of the fence. How might we determine what is truly swaying the decision making (if anything at all)?
Planning Application Research
As part of an MSc. International Real Estate and Planning dissertation, which focussed on planning application performance across Greater London, I touched on this subject. The overall aim of the study was to see how the volume of applications, decisions made, time period of decisions and decisions granted varied across London for the period of the availability of the data. I chose to address potential political influence on the process by assessing the performance of local authorities grouped by the political majority of their council.
At the point of the study this meant that there were 21 Labour majority local authorities, 9 Conservative and 3 ‘Other’ (Sutton; with a Liberal Democrat majority, Havering; with no overall majority, and the City of London Corporation). This aspect of the study was relatively simple: I grouped the results of each of my chosen categories (major applications decided, minor applications decided, major decided within 13 wks, minor decided within 8 wks, major granted and minor granted) by their political majority. Firstly, with all three groupings mentioned above, and secondly, with an adjusted weighting to attempt to directly compare Labour and Conservative boroughs.
The results of this analysis showed that boroughs are consistently performing similarly in terms of Major application processing. However, when it comes to Minor applications, Conservative majority boroughs disproportionately contribute to the overall volumes decided and granted.
Are Conservative authorities more lenient on Minor applications?
They contribute 38% to volume decided, 39% to volume successful and 37% to successful applications within the allocated time period (Proportionally, they should only be delivering 27% of the overall volumes). When we adjust the weighting to compare Labour vs. Conservative authorities under each of these categories we’re looking at ratios of 40:60, 32:68, 40:60 respectively. Notably, decisions granted show the largest difference, at 32:68. Are Conservative authorities more lenient on Minor applications?
It would be wrong to dismiss the volume of decisions as being a result of high population or density, as this varies greatly across the sample group. We must also not assume that one, or the other, spends more on planning functions. As you can see below, higher spending does not correlate with larger volumes of applications being processed.
We could possibly muse about the demographics of these populations and their ability to engage in the development and planning process in the first place. Is it reassuring that for major applications there seems to be very little difference when grouped by their political situations? Or does the fact that they’re so aligned reveal a failing somewhere else in the system? Especially when we’re aware of the heavily unbalanced distribution of development and planning costs between Labour and Conservative authorities.
These are some simple facts of the system, sitting on top of a much wider study. However, they’re true of current conditions and therefore should be interrogated with supporting information and questioned further as to why results sway one way or another. The value of planning application data analysis, even at this relatively high level, is important in exposing the nuances of the system. I’m excited to see how planning application data is more actively utilised by innovators in the field. I’m also eager, if time allows, to share more of the results of this personal study as the year goes on, and when it feels relevant to do so.
Author: Ronan O’Boyle
Ronan holds a Master of Architecture (UCD, Dublin) as well as a MSc. International Real Estate & Planning (UCL Bartlett). He previously worked with award winning architectural firms in Shanghai, Dublin and San Francisco. He leads our business development and customer relationship operations, helping to work customer feedback into the development of our products.