Planning fees on the up

 

Architects’ Journal for late July 2007 [as delivered] [download as .pdf]

By Brian Waters

Slipped out with the planning white paper was a consultation paper ‘Planning Fees in England: Proposals for Change’ [www.communities .gov.uk/consultations] which proposes an increase of 25 per cent (less for householder developments) to take effect on 1st April 2008.
This date is significant since it marks the end of the Planning Delivery Grant in its present form whereby planning authorities receive cash injections to boost departments provided they deliver enhanced performance in the processing of applications.
The convention that local authorities should pay for activities which benefit the public good is disappearing into fond memory so far as it applies to planning (and will soon enough do the same thing in respect of appeals, it seems), just leaving things like enforcement, where it is hard to know who to send the bill to.
The aim now is to achieve full recovery of the cost of processing applications, though, as the paper points out: “For some years there has been a reluctance to increase fee levels fully to meet the cost of the service, because of the perceived (sic) poor standard of local authority performance”. It goes on: “However, without the necessary resources local authorities have been unable to attract and retain suitably qualified staff to improve delivery”. Not much change there then?
Planning fees jumped by up to 440 per cent in 2005 and, the paper says “Planning Delivery Grant brought significant improvements in service delivery” and, with the ending of the scheme “the issue of planning fees needs to be addressed soon if reported improvements are to be maintained and further improvement delivered”.
Research for the department suggests that the total cost of the development control service is between £290 and £365million and fee income in 2005/06 was £232m.
Kate Barker in her December 2006 review of the planning system suggested raising the cap of £50,000 on fees, allowing applicants to pay extra for a premium service or the cost of resource/consultants to work on the case, and maintenance of a delivery grant. However she added a proviso that any fee increase be allowed only “on the basis of a clear mechanism for indicating the higher quality of service that will be delivered as a result”.
The consultation paper offers three options: do nothing; a 40 per cent overall increase and a 25 per cent increase. It also calls for and end to the £50,000 cap and a new fee for certifying that a condition has been discharged.
It plumps for the middle option (surprise!) and says “As part of the package we will expect planning authorities to continue improving so that they at least meet the existing targets while others go beyond them so that decision times are brought down even further while maintaining quality.” There is no mention of sanctions to enforce this aspiration.
A pilot study is proposed to trial a premium service with a 20 percent higher fee, and some discussion of authorities setting their own fees in the future.
Members of the Association of Consultant Architects have written to clients advising of this consultation and inviting them to comment as part of the ACA’s response to it. AJ readers might like to do the same and email their responses to me. The consultation closes on 17th August*.
As noted by Kate Barker, the increasing overlap of planning and building controls suggests a case for the merger of the regimes. Fees which cover the full cost of processing planning applications also open the door to competition. As happened with Building Regulation, this would encourage better performance, provide the sanctions needed to deal with poorly performing authorities and introduce private sector resources to the planning system – which the ACA and the AJ have long been campaigning for.

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* respond to janet.amery@communities.gsi.gov.uk

Brian Waters is a chartered architect and planning consultant: brian@bwcp.co.uk