A replacement for the accredited agent scheme

This is a follow-up to my previous post in which I tried to explain why I think agent accreditation schemes are wrong.

I’ll begin with what may be an obvious point: planning applications are an awkward mix of the tricky, the unusual and important. People working in the midst of it can forget that our work is not easy even for intelligent people, and there is no learning curve when your only experience of planning is once or twice in a lifetime.

venn diagram

Just as conveyancing solicitors exist in a similar venn diagram so should planning agents. But, as Val commented, there are some bad agents out there. And there are some agents who use their planning department as the double-checker or the quality control mechanism rather than earning their fee by doing a good job.

But accreditation is not the answer. Continue reading


Agent Accreditation is wrong – discuss

Anyone who has ever seen me deliver presentations will be unsurprised to learn that I prepare what I think quite carefully, but not so much how I’m going to say it. At our opening PIPE event I mentioned (in an unplanned aside) that I thought agent accreditation was wrong. Several people challenged me on this, so I offer my opinion in two parts. Today I’ll try to set out why these accreditation schemes are fundamentally wrong. Shortly I’ll share some thoughts on what might be a better way.

Even more than usual I’m grateful to colleagues in local govt, several of whom have shared their thoughts and inside knowledge on agent accreditation schemes.

How do agent accreditation schemes work ?

Briefly, the premise is that there are good agents and bad agents. Good agents can submit good applications that are ready to proceed, bad agents submit sloppy applications that require rework before they can go on to consultation.

Good agents  submit a certain number of flawless applications to a particular authority – usually 3. Following this test, they receive a “gong” – they become an official accredited agent. Presumably their name is listed somewhere on the council website, and they can use this gong as evidence of some kind of competence in their own promotional material. Because they are now an accredited agent, any subsequent applications they submit bypass the initial validation process and go straight to a planner – reducing cost and time.

So what’s the problem with agent accreditation schemes ? Continue reading

You can’t cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore

At our ‘Benchmarking – So What?’ events back in February I happily listened to planners talking about life after (government set) targets. Despite the target-based regime being declared dead over half a year ago, this was the first time I felt a genuine desire among planners to create something new and different. Printed on a wall at one venue was one of those philosophical quotations – something like ‘you can’t cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore’. I’m no philosopher but our ‘shore’ has been the national indicator set but now I am sensing that planners are beginning to imagine something different. Continue reading

Evolution or revolution?

I dont read long blogs, so I wont expect you to either.

So here’s an idea – from a spark of creative thinking at a discussion between a bunch of planners – this idea has intrigued and me ever since.

The theory goes like this. Big developers have lots of staff to call on to provide professional advice and talent. They need to sell their houses and are dependent for their success (especially now) on how the market rates their product.
Therefore, what would happen if having given permission for a major housing proposal, the planning authority didn’t impose conditions to regulate the detailed design and arrangement beyond that shown in the application submission and the design and access statement.  Instead, the Council (having given very good development management advice and plenty of well written supplementary planning guidance to help set the expectations) comes along at the completion of the development and gives a rating report evaluating the development as it has been been built out.
The planning system thus would become less regulatory and more an evaluating. Developers would perhaps become more self challenging in order to achieve better ratings.  Buyers would be guided by the evaluation.
Of course this would not work for all developers – in most cases the companies simply dont make use of expertise or won’t resource good design skills relying on off the shelf products and low standard plans.  Maybe ambitious house builders could apply to a local authority to become part of such a scheme and go through an accreditation process so that the Local authoity has confidence in them.

What it would do is shed a load of work on approving details conditions that is both a bugbear to developers and a resource hungry process for LPAs.