Beyond NI157

You’ll probably know that NI157 (our national performance indicator for planning) may be changed. I was invited along for the final review – learning and listening to the pilots to assess what new measures would make sense to implement. I’m here to tell the whole room of practitioners they got it entirely, completely, utterly wrong. Sector led ? You fools – the cage is unlocked and you won’t fly free!
Fly you fools!
On the day in question we were divided out on tables – reporting back and voting on a new indicator set. The worst sort of design by committee. Compounded with everyone’s natural politeness and inability to understand how much the world has changed since this pilot work was begun. Don’t believe me ? We’ve ended up voting to keep NI157. Please, CLG, revert to the non-listening, cold, inhuman machine and ignore us. Like the public majority wanting the return of the death penalty – find a way to save us from ourselves.

The frustration, of course, is that on my ‘yellow’ table people were intelligent, perceptive and thoughtful. What follows is (mostly) what they said – repackaged and turned into my call to arms. And to be clear – this are just measures. Not national. Not targets. Just measuring, reporting, understanding, improving.

1. Pre-application
Only two:
How much work have you removed from the system ? Convert low-value or boring work to a local development order. Change it from a permission to a certificate. Make some clear decisions about your purpose and value – and dump everything else. Cheaper for you, quicker and simpler for them.
How often to people engage you for pre-application advice or a PPA? Do people trust and value your advice ? Are you a good organisation to do business with ? Don’t make it compulsory! Make it worthwhile!

2. Timeliness
This again is easy.
Just publish a summary of every decision, including dates received, validated and determined. Every one. With a category – so performance can be understood in relation to the type of development. Are loads of renewable energy schemes bogged down in your red tape ? Do you block new housing schemes ? Publish and let your audiences select what is relevant for them. [and I don’t mean in a pdf that you publish every week. Structured data. ]

3. Certainty
See above. People can see for themselves the decisions that get made. Plus another:
Appeals and results. Not ideal, but appeals and JRs are about all we have as measure of quality.

4. Post-decision
This is where I think some small changes can make the world of difference. Keep your waffly “planning for outcomes” nonsense.
Commencements. It is inconceivable that there isn’t a link between decisions and whether or not the development happens. “Give us an implementable permission” the developers say – there’s no point saying “yes” but then attaching 47 conditions that make the whole thing fail. This is true. Maybe a third (maybe more these days) of the bigger schemes never happen – even after a permission. If nothing else, it will get everyone really angry that public money is used to process applications that people had no intention of building in the first place. I don’t want my taxes used to update the values on someones land holdings.
Enforcement. Not just any old enforcement – we’re not like parking attendants issuing notices to justify salary. What is it that we want to protect ? Find out – your councillors will know. Then, go and protect it. In public – maintain confidence in the rules.
Benefits. The one that gets the publicity is money via section 106, but there are hundreds of ways that good planning finds ways of making good things happen (as opposed to preventing awful things). Write them down – if it is money it’s easy, if it’s a sustainability code or a building for life it’s more difficult to aggregate. Oh – and don’t count it until it’s actually happened. Especially promises made on “green” things.

In conclusion: I am right, you are wrong.
Of course, most of these ideas came from my colleagues on the ‘yellow’ table. And yet our official vote went to the wasteful, pointless, expensive national indicator NI157. I could weep.
For once I’m being entirely serious – this would be my starting attempt to measure against purpose if I was let loose in a planning department tomorrow.
As you’d expect, I’d also be doing some benchmarking of my process costs and asking my partners whether Planning was helping them deliver their capital programmes. And I’d also expect these measures to change, or be refined as I began to understand which bits were most useful to me. I don’t know how to convert this diatribe into action – but start with this. Say it out loud. “The national indicator NI157 actually makes things worse“. Good.

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2 thoughts on “Beyond NI157

  1. Yes NI157 does have its perverse consequences but on the whole it helps to maintain discipline – in terms of a timely service to the public. I recently wrote my dissertation on this performance indicator and found that the majority of managers in Planning find the indicator and the various targets “reasonable”. At my LPA we send out satisfaction surveys with the decision notice. Generally, agents find that an application processed within 8 weeks is satisfactory but local residents are much less satisfied with the same timescale.

  2. Perhaps this is the point. Planning managers find the target “reasonable”. This is the target that (at best) enforces a minimum standard that is far longer than many things should take. The target that increases costs and decreases value. These managers are *wrong*.

    Then again, I’ve just spent some time with managers preparing revised structures for next year and want to use the 150 cases / officer method.

    Either the world is insane, or I am. I have therefore decided to shave my head and go and live in the wilderness. Does a tall pole in the desert count as development ?

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