Law firm Shoosmiths has hailed Government proposals to speed up planning decisions on large and complex developments as a way of ending lengthy delays and rocketing costs.

The proposed Planning Delivery Agreements scheme will see developers and planning authorities create an agreed project plan, with a defined timeframe - all before a planning application is even submitted.

Iain Gilbey, partner and head of Shoosmiths' Birmingham planning team, said PDAs were a welcome development, but cautioned they had to be backed by the political will and funding to make them a success.

And some 21 pilot projects - including a plan for a wind farm on the Isle of Wight - will be used to test how they work in practice.

The intention behind a PDA is to improve communication as well as help ease delays and uncertainties for developers, landowners and local communities alike.

"As ever, the financial implications are key. If local authorities are properly resourced to deal with them, PDAs have the potential to revolutionise the planning process, delivering responses to planning applications within a defined time frame,"

said Mr Gilbey. "Similarly, the effect of that for developers could be huge, helping to offset the risk to them of funding sites which is an unpredictable and risky business - and in the worst case scenarios, where they are paying mortgage interest, it can currently run into a period of years and involve vast sums.

"Anything which helps define the timeline for an application and put a clear framework around approval or refusal will potentially bring forward more sites for development.

"At the moment there is a massive shortage of planning officers, so consideration needs to be given to recruitment and training so that local planning authorities have the people available to develop PDAs in the way they are intended."

The new system is set to help developers keep control of applications, by setting clear time tables for all the key stages of the application and defining exactly what information is expected at every milestone.

If the pilot trial is successful, they could be used for more applications involving town centre development schemes, residential developments of 100 or more homes, or mixed use/commercial developments of a similar size.