Planning function has been relegated to lower positions in the corporate structure of councils across the UK, a new survey by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) reveals.
The LGA says the findings reinforce a need for government to “adequately resource” council planning departments and set local planning fees.
According to the survey, the head of planning is a member of the top management team in only 17% of councils in the UK despite the fact that planning is, like social services and education, a statutory function.
A majority of councils responding (83%) put planning two or three tiers down from the chief executive, diluting its importance as a strategic corporate function that helps councils tackle social, economic and environmental challenges.
The RTPI research examined the management structure of 212 councils in London, SE England, NW England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
Head of planning is absent from the ‘top table’ in 77% of councils in Wales and 94% of councils in Scotland.
In London, North West and South East, the corresponding figures are 86%, 90% and 78%.
By contrast, planners have the highest status in Ireland – 78% of councils there have head of planning reporting directly to the chief executive.
Victoria Hills, RTPI Chief Executive, said: “Planning is a powerful lever to deliver almost all areas of focus within an authority’s corporate strategy.
“We urge more council chief executives and portfolio holders to recognise this and put in the right structure so that leaders can make major decisions – be they about education, health or social care – with full view and proper debate of their spatial dimensions, such as housing, transport, green spaces, energy and waste infrastructure.
“Amid the challenges of Brexit and tight resources, it is all the more important that councils ensure planners are at the heart of corporate decision-making so that their effectiveness to join the dots across complex spending decisions can be maximised.
“Our members tell us that councillors are more likely to respect planning advice from a senior officer from a chief executive’s team.
“All too often we see a lack of joined-thinking, with investment decisions being made without a holistic perspective that could give good growth outcomes.”
LGA Housing spokesman Cllr Martin Tett said with councils facing an overall funding shortfall in excess of £5 billion by 2020, it was “essential” that the Government adequately resources council planning departments, so that they can cover the cost of processing applications.
“Ultimately, we need to move towards locally set planning fees.
“Councils are the custodians of their communities and understand the environmental and housing needs of their local areas best, so they should be able to set fees locally in line with the needs of their communities,” Tett said.