The first thing to say about planning performance agreements (PPAs) are that they are only partly about planning performance and they are not agreements – well not in the legal sense. A PPA is a Memorandum of Understanding – both parties agree to do certain things, but they are not legally bound by it. For that reason my first piece of advice is, with all due respect to lawyers, don’t let them anywhere near a PPA; they will only complicate it! The goal is to have a short template document on your website that succinctly does the job, which can be signed with minimal - if any - negotiation about its terms.
In my opinion, some local planning authorities (LPAs) put far too much in a PPA. The reason for this I think comes from their history. PPAs were originally called Planning Delivery Agreements (PDAs) and were part of an initiative in the mid-noughties to introduce a more project management approach to large applications by government via its Advisory Team for Large Applications. The initial PDAs contained a lot of the project management paraphernalia that was being promoted, as well as the essentials now required in a PPA. This is not meant as a criticism of the early pioneers, but to acknowledge that the project management side of things is now generally more embedded in good planning departments and is not best delivered through a PPA.
So, what should a good succinct PPA cover?
There will be some preliminaries covering who are the parties, what the document is and what it relates to, clarity that neither party is fettered by it (eg LPAs statutory role and developer’s right of appeal), how long it lasts, how to change it and what happens if it is breached.
Obligations on both parties to follow the timetable (generally set out in a separate Project Plan/Gantt Chart), to comply with performance standards (covering matters such as providing material in advance of meetings, issuing meeting notes, community engagement requirements etc) and, most importantly, to meet the performance deadlines – ie when the decision will be made on the application.
The fees that you are charging for the process, including dedicated officers and funding external consultants, should be set out.
Finally, a section on confidentiality, informed by the law (Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004) is important so everyone is clear about how information will be handled and the need to identify and justify material that is truly confidential.
This can all be conveyed in no more than six sides of A4.
It is important to remember that the PPA is one document in a suite of documents and procedures that make for a successful pre-application process:
Project management approach: Organise your team so that they see strategic applications as projects and manage them appropriately. How many of these cases you have to deal with will dictate how elaborate that project management process should be.
Project Initiation Document/Planning Statement: From the beginning of the process you must think through the project and what is involved. In the project management world this is called a Project Initiation Document, but in the pre-application world I call it a Planning Statement. This should include the LPAs high level requirements for the development: what the development plan expects and an initial urban design analysis of the site and the surrounding area. It will also set out the performance standards referred to in the PPA.
Project Plan: All projects need a plan. This is a simple Gantt Chart (I do mine in Excel) that captures all the meetings and other events needed to progress the proposal. This will of course change, but by thinking it through early you can gather together the Development Team in the LPA, it makes the developer think more carefully about timescales and resources and it enables you to estimate the cost of the process so you can inform the developer.
So PPAs are important, but they are only part of a good pre-application service. There is no need to make a meal of them and their negotiation should not be a big issue in the whole pre-application process if they are drafted in the right way.
Mike Kiely is chairman of the Planning Officers Society