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Deregulation of planning fees – what would it mean for you?

by on September 9, 2015

I was interested to read the news last week that the LGA has pushed Government for the deregulation of planning fees in England.

We’ve been here before – the Government considered the proposals a couple of years ago but this time the push is coming from local authorities.

English LPAs have urged ministers to let them  set their own fees for planning applications to ensure councils are properly funded and to reduce the burden on taxpayers.

The Planning Portal will be able to support this model of fee payment and let LPAs configure their fee calculators on a council-by-council basis.

I was interested to hear the thoughts of both LPAs and professional applicants on the proposals and how the change would affect your organisation/business, your customers and your working practices.

I’d also be interested to understand whether LPAs would be keen to introduce fees for application and consent types that require processing but currently have no fee attached, such as applications for trees or listed buildings.

Comments are now closed on this article – thank you for your feedback.

39 Comments
  1. Scott Johnson permalink

    Seems logical – no local authority has precisely the same overall environmental and infrastructure issues to handle and assess, and as such, require a different level of expertise and capability to hire and maintain. Likewise, different places within a local authority have different inherent costs associate with applications. I can’t see how a standard fee has worked all this time!

  2. David Hartley permalink

    once again it will be an opportunity to introduce an unregulated tax that will not be thought through properly (like CIL charging) This will hamstring local agents and builders for however long it takes the government to realise they have messed up again (like CIL charging)
    With the CIL my experience was that sites were mothballed or developers looked to work innon CIL areas.
    I honestly believe some things such as planning remain totally nationalised with proper government funding.
    LPA’s have too many local agendas and the construction industry is seen as an easy money raising target

  3. Andy Dunks permalink

    I have to look up the individual LA fees for Building Regs when giving somebody a quote at the moment so it’ll just be the same process for the planning fees too. No great hardship.

  4. Nick edwards permalink

    I cannot help but feel that this is an idea beset by potential pitfalls. How would local authorities go about setting fee rates? Would this be limited to simply that required to meet the costs of the service, or more? Would there be a political component to fee setting? Would council members be tempted to see planning fees as a means of generating income, or discouraging more unpalatable developments? Doesn’t this completely cut against the grain of a simple application service and 1APP?

  5. Didn’t we get rid of this system about 15 years ago? Judging by the way local authorities charge for pre-app advice allowing them to charge what they want for planning application will just mean some areas becoming a no go area for application because of the cost.
    Add onto that the increased likelihood of applicants appealing with costs every failed decision and this is a recipe for disaster that will only clog up the system further.

    Why do local authorities see charging as some silver bullet to solve their problems. In my experience if they actually got a bit more professional then maybe it wouldn’t cost as much or take as long to deal with applications.

  6. Culver Evans permalink

    The biggest worry has to be that a LA is effectively a monopoly so what is to stop them seeking to make large profits from a captive public. We have been there before with things like parking charges and fines!

  7. Paula LS permalink

    Locally set fees would enable the Local Authority to properly fund the service across the board, including planning enforcement where potential infringements need to be investigated and dealt with appropriately. In many areas, this is seriously underfunded which makes a mockery of the planning permission process!

    • Ben permalink

      It is incumbent upon LAs to modernise and remove the complacency that I have so often seen. The current fees are very generous and LAs must learn to operate efficiently within their fees budget. It must always be remembered that ALL fees and charges are eventually paid by the citizen at the end of the line, whether it be tax payers or private individuals.

  8. Trevor Dennington permalink

    Planning fees were introduced in 1981 with the intention that users and so-called beneficiaries of the planning system, rather than taxpayers in general, meet the costs incurred by local planning authorities in deciding planning applications. The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 empowers the Secretary of State to prescribe fee levels. Some planning applications are more time-consuming and expensive to process than others, and the fees regime has been devised so that both simple and more complex proposals can be properly assessed and considered by local planning authorities for appropriate fees. The Government adjusts fee levels periodically, in line with research findings, the response to public consultations, policy aims, and subject to impact assessment. There is simply no reason to allow inefficient authorities to charge more on a claim that their costs are higher, so leave well alone. We have already experienced with CIL the avaricious response of local planning authorities to freedom to set their own charges which caused an increase in house prices averaging £20,000 at a stroke and numerous small builders going out of business resulting in a significant under-provision of new houses from then on. Similarly, many inventive authorities have set absurd pre-app charges which cannot be legal unless the consulted planning officer is costing the authority £200,000 a year or more. The UK will never achieve the house building it needs while the housing industry is treated as a cash cow by local councils.

  9. D Chauhan permalink

    In principal I have no objections, however I feel that the LA’s will use this as a “cash cow” and will start to charge for all kinds of applications which are currently free.
    I would like to see a similar approach to the building regulations system whereby the planning can be dealt with by approved planning inspectors as well as LA’s and the fee structure set by government.

  10. Neil warren permalink

    I have no problem with councils setting their own planning fees but the much bigger problem is whether they can return to a couple of years ago where they were dealing with applications in the required timescale. When the government introduced the cutbacks the local councils reduced the planning staff when we have a small building boom. So happy with councils setting fees but must bring in more staff
    In planning departments.
    Neil warren
    Enaid limited

  11. It has been a constant source of surprise that LPAs have been able to function at the current level of fees as some of the services attract very little or no fee at all, so in that vein, autonomy in setting fees makes sense. The concern is that there will be no structure to how the fees are worked out and there will be a disparity between local authorities, with the poorest authorities charging the highest fees and scaring off developer investment. If the fee increases are structured and it allows LPAs to work more efficiently, make decisions in a timely and professional fashion, then I can see the potential benefits.

  12. Graham Townsend permalink

    Reading the comments on this topic shows that developers & agents have either widely differing experiences of LPAs or very different levels of expectation of the service they will get. Costs will vary between authorities for reasons other than efficiency. Processing applications in a tight urban area or over hundreds of square miles of a rural one will be very different exercises. Local fee setting has a logic to it, but a sensible review of fees for different categories of development, including realistic fees for prior notifications, ought to enable overall fee income to more closely cover the full cost of an efficient and well resourced planning service.

  13. C.Davison permalink

    In our area, planning officers in Local Authorities do their time and then many join private planning consultancies to appeal against the very planning constraints that they were responsible for in the first place – the gamekeeper turned poacher scenario! Failing that they become private developers and use their acquired knowledge to rail-road the system that they were supposedly once protecting.
    Trevor Dennington’s view above seems to sum up the fee situation very well. An increase in planning fees, on top of ad-hoc building control fees, CIL contributions, increase costs in providing sustainable building and most of all Affordable Housing provision of up to 75% of a sites potential value means the builder/developer is struggling to keep his business afloat.
    The planning system would operate just as well with a handful (or less) of planning officers providing a prescriptive zoning for various identified development sites which would be couched in legal terms rather than dictating design parameters e.g. height, boundary matters, overlooking, nuisance, parking. Maybe conservation areas and listed buildings would require additional caveats. You only need to look around to see what goes on in the name of the current planning system to realise it is not as precious as it seems and certainly not worthy of carte blanche funding.

  14. Trevor Dennington permalink

    On the wider front, I have always had serious reservations about an evident desire to make planning departments self-funding from fees charged to “customers” who are compelled to use the monopoly service. There is no suggestion that residents burgled or assaulted, or even those doing the burglary or assaulting, should cover the cost of the Police service ; no suggestion that charges for borrowing books or other media must cover the cost of maintaining a Public Library service ; no requirement for parents to cover the cost of educating their offspring other than via Council Tax and publicly funded government grants. Planning is primarily a public service like other local authority services and is designed primarily to benefit the community, not its forced users. So why should those forced to use the service cover its cost ?

    • Nick edwards permalink

      I second those thoughts Trevor! I would agree with all comments that planning services should be adequately funded. Rapid and effective planning decisions are absolutely necessary to support the continued economic recovery. However, I have serious reservations about local authority fee setting as being the way to achieve this, precisely for the reasons you identify.

  15. Local Authorities charging their own fees Forsooth is yet another nail in the coffin for the small developer/builder and client.

    Coupled with the latest High Court ruling on the WMS relating to affordable housing contribution for developments from 1-9 dwellings which was scrapped in March this year and resurrected because of the above on July 31st (having said this it wasn’t surprising it was challenged by the local authorities in question. Whoever drafted the WMS leaves a lot to be desired.)

    However, LA’s didn’t waste much time by reverting back to amending the appropriate paragraphs to re-implement the affordable housing contributions plus the extortionate legal charges.

    They want more and more houses to be built yet the there is little encouragement!!!!

    Reply

  16. K bowra permalink

    My comment would be if the LPA
    Was allowed to set the the fee payable for planning applications
    This would encourage an increase in fees to enable greater resistance to applications that would otherwise gain approval and in doing so generate more income from resubmissions and amendments to the detriment of the developer public or professional

  17. C Goodman permalink

    Historically Local Authorities have set charges and fees for various functions at a much higher level than such activities needed for basic function. There must be a control over charges made by LPAs to ensure a level playing field nationally and to prevent local “add ons” and political whims. As I have noticed with the Planning Portal since its inception it has expanded in both function, complexity and charges, much of which I consider nice but absolutely unnecessary.

  18. We deal with 500-600 listed building applications per annum, these are all free. A fee for these would help cover the cost of processing these applications.

    • Ben permalink

      I would suggest LPAs simplify their processing systems and improve their productivity with the overall objective of accelerating applications and, possibly, reducing labour costs. I’ve long felt that a planning application should be automatically acceded unless the LPA can produce a good reason to object and reject thus incentivising LPAs to pull out the finger
      .

  19. I’m afraid that having suffered from the worryingly variable (both cost and ‘service’) efforts of LPA’s doing pre-apps, I would have grave reservations about letting Councils fix formal application fees. Anti-developer councils would have a field day. After all the performances of some on absurd s106 demands are a good illustration of what abuses are in the system.

    We all suffered for years from poor service from council building control departments. Slow, frequently unresponsive, expensive – and rubbish performance generally. Then ‘approved inspectors’ were allowed to operate. It’s been magic. Cheaper, better and far quicker – and one is actually a ‘customer’. They also work on Friday afternoons…..

    I suggested this to Nick Boles when he was planning minister. Why not let councils (who are understaffed) put applications out to the private sector to deal with all mechanical issues up to report stage? Policy is clear – there is a Plan in force. Presentations could be made to committee by either officers or the ‘consultant. and the democratic process would make the decision. Fees are high enough for non-domestic applications to cover private sector.

    So why not? It would clear the log-jam, and (in my opinion anyway) could be a breath of fresh air.

  20. P Clifford permalink

    The Right hand NEVER knows what the left hand is doing (and vice versa). There must always be a balance but putting the fee raising powers into the (right) hands of LPAs will change the ‘rates’ received by the (left hand) LAs.
    ie. If the LPAs put the (once only) fees too high then less buildings will be built and inevitably less (annual) business or domestic rates will be received by the Councils.

    I always believed that when there were NO Planning Fees there were MORE buildings erected and, of course, these were immediately (and forever) subject to a rateable value and a rateable income.

    • Trevor Dennington permalink

      Exactly, P. Clifford !
      If planning authorities aspire to use CIL and s106 to grab – sorry, “capture !” – a sizeable share of the profit that is generated, NOT by their granting of planning permission since that must not be bought and sold, but through the entrepreneurial expertise and financial risk-taking of the applicant, of course they will choke off small builders and even larger developers, thereby achieving less in fees than if a fair and just approach was adopted. Developers don’t build homes for the fun or experience of doing it !
      Whilst councils are keen to get their hands in the pockets of successful applicants, one notes that there is no balancing contribution of a similar percentage of the abortive costs when they deny planning permission, even after their equally high fee-earning pre-app consultation may have given the proposal an encouraging nod … subject to the ever-present disclaimer indicating in effect that the enquirer cannot rely on any aspect of the pre-app advice received for the fee paid ! (If any professional planning consultancy offered advice on that basis, it would go out of business in no time flat !)
      David Cameron and George Osborne introduced CIL after pinching the idea from Gordon Brown’s ‘Planning Gain Tax’ – sorry, “Supplement” to something or other. So LPAs are not solely to blame for regarding the housing industry as a cash cow.
      But it remains that neither they nor the government appear able to see why we are only building half the annual number of new homes we need.

  21. I’m opposed to the introduction of localised planning fees, however I’m concerned that some of the comments on here show that some agents just have no appreciation just how under resourced LPA’s are. As an example, my LPA, a city unitary authority of over 200,000 people, employs just one Enforcement Officer.

    A comparison with how the private sector does, or would, operate is fallacious- they are able to turn down work which is not or is insufficiently remunerative, whereas the LPA has to take the work, as well as pay for the enforcement function and deal with non fee generating general enquiries.

    More preferable would be the introduction of proper levels of fees for all types of applications, in particular the prior notifications (change of use of a B1 office to over 100 flats for £80? Really?) and removal of the absurd and anachronistic requirement for publishing statutory notices in the local press.

    • N, Re your comment: ‘I’m concerned that some of the comments on here show that some agents just have no appreciation just how under resourced LPA’s are’. I would suggest that most agents are acutely aware of the under resourcing of planning departments and the subsequent impacts on the level of service they receive. There is no argument that more resourcing is needed, the issue is whether or not LPA’s setting their own fees is an appropriate or effective way of securing this.

      • Ben permalink

        The whole planning procedure has grown from nothing since I was a youth to become a very costly to the economy monolith that, from a small and ideal start, has continually expanded itself to the nationwide behometh it has become. I am opposed to anything other than a one time fee for the LPAs to examine and approve plans and the introduction of a timescale for plans to be refused or automatically approved. The complexity of planning regulations certainly cannot make it easy for LPAs but the answer is to rehash and simplify the regulations and overall reduce the costs to the economy.

      • Trevor Dennington permalink

        Anonymous “N”, I don’t know what experience you have of working in the private sector, but I spent 20 years in total working for two of the biggest councils in my region before moving to the private sector the first time after 6 years and again, after a further 14 year period in local government, before finally leaving in 1989 to set up my planning consultancy.
        I never gained any impression during that 20 years that local councils were in any way under-resourced and have seen no evidence of it in my dealings with them over the past 26 years. Incremental budgeting is the norm.
        I therefore agree that comparison with the private sector is fallacious.
        Who pays for activities is irrelevant to the adequacy or otherwise of funding.

    • Scott Johnson permalink

      I agree with Anonymous “N” – LPAs are very much under-resourced. I know from years of working with them up until this year. The environmental, infrastructure and sustainability demands keep increasing, and their funding keeps on shrinking. They are running on teams too small to handle the requirements for research, data management, strategic thinking / plan-making and adherence to the very many strategies and plans which exist and are to be adhered to.

  22. Barry Reid permalink

    Fine, but be careful what you wish for as the corollary to this proposal, from a market oriented government has to be competition. That is form of ‘approved planning inspector’

  23. sarahchilcott permalink

    Good to see plenty of debate here on the many aspects of this. Passions clearly run high but please do be sure to keep your comments respectful of others’ views. Thanks and keep comments coming. Sarah

  24. Ben permalink

    It is surely time that Local Planning Authorities became Local Authority Planning Agencies, a title more in line with their reason to be. As it is incumbent upon Local Authorities (LA) to operate efficiently and economically I consider that a standard fees table must operate across the whole nation and the onus is upon the LA to ensure it is employing suitable and adequate staff.

  25. Stephen D permalink

    This does seem like a rather short sighted idea. To fully implement it properly they would need competition, like approved inspectors etc for building regulations so there is some degree of choice. Otherwise as said on many other comments it would be a monopoly. You couldn’t have multiple planning bodies covering the same areas or multiple areas to provide the competitive element needed to regulate fees as that would be completely unworkable.

    This would just create development hotspots, places where it is cheaper to get planning and other areas stifled by a lack of development. If the government are expecting private developers to build affordable housing for them and then pay through 106 for improvements for them and then pay through the nose for planning for them I am sure you will see house building stall.

    Surely the council generates more funds through built out developments, not getting a bit of extra cash up front. I severely doubt (Hope) that the wouldn’t increase planning fee’s to the amount that would be generated through the council tact payments on a completed housing scheme… Could you imagine!

    A more professional service is what is required, not a more expensive one. A service where staff are at work for more than 2 days a week and it doesn’t take several weeks just to talk to get someone to return your call / email. Efficiency is key, the planning system is bloated and full of pointless bureaucracy.

  26. Andrew permalink

    As an ex-Building Control Manager I may have a negative view of the planning process which seems to take too long to make a decision and allows little scope for the professionalism of the officers as opposed to the less informed views of the general public and Councillors. I would be concerned that he cost of applications would rise unless there was a requirement to concentrate on the issues without being side-lined by political matters. In my experience it will take a lot to make the system concentrate on the important issues and make timely decisions. I would suggest that the planning system should look at how the building control system has made itself more efficient.

  27. Richard W permalink

    At the heart of this discussion seems to be the slightly metaphysical question: “Who should pay for LAs to deal with planning applications?”

    For my tuppenceworth, applying for planning permission is something residents and businesses choose to do – usually in pursuit of a return on their investment – either in terms of profit (£££) or utility (an extra bedroom etc). So you might think: “Why should the general taxpayer subsidise their investment?” (And I don’t think they should.)

    BUT the planning system is just as much about regulating private investment in the public interest as it is about supporting private investment in the first place (perhaps moreso).

    Or in other words if you ask instead why we have a planning system (Is it for the benefit of landowners and developers? Or is it in the public interest more generally?) then I think it becomes perfectly clear that this is a function that should really be taxpayer funded, not user paid.

    But as with everything else in the UK (or is it just the South East?) everyone wants effective state machinery with low taxes and that is simply not an option. So given the reality of where we are (with the current government endlessly cutting taxpayer funding for local government) the only option Mr Osborne is allowing is ‘user pays’ so fees will have to go up.

    But instead of deregulation my proposal would be sticking with national fees BUT substantially increasing these with the proviso that they are ringfenced to planning departments.

  28. James permalink

    I have to agree with some of the previous comments questioning the reasons for a change. There could be a case for abolishing fees since there is so much tax on development anyway, but in the past this allowed mis-use and multiple applications.
    Local Authorities are there to provide a suitable framework for persons to go about their business and lead their lives. Business should produce profit to increase opportunity not taxes.
    As a country though I think we lack the philanthropists of past generations who built hospitals, schools and colleges to benefit those who could not afford these things and although today many worthwhile things are achieved by voluntary work for local areas it tends to be on a different scale.
    Maybe if the fees and s106 & CIL contributions were available to see on public record together with where and what it was spent on it might help everyone be more informed and think carefully on how it is spent.
    A more appropriate change in my view would be to abolish political party involvement in local authorities and elect persons according to their skills and abilities to be responsible to the electorate and not waste time with political wrangling. It could save a lot of hot air and cash.

    • Ben permalink

      As virtually all Local Authority activities are non productive activities there is a very good case to make any changes that will reduce the manpower and costs within LAs. Planning is a very good example where beaurocracy and political aims all so often do not meet the local peoples’ desires or needs. I feel that LPAs should be removed from the Local Authority control and re-constituted in the form of a locally elected executive body that excludes all local politicians and the bare minimum of “professional” planners.
      Planning fees must never be deregulated but must have a ceiling that cannot be exceeded but can be reduced constant across the nation to prevent political and financial interference with what is really support for commercial activity.

  29. Here’s food for thought from a Planning Veteran :

    Retain a UK wide Planning Fee structure.
    Abolish worthless Pre-application advice.
    Abolish Local Lists and implement a National List.
    Deregulate Planning Committees and enlist members that are professionals who actually know something about Planning.
    Local Authorities pay their own legal fees for S106/UU’s
    Ensure transparency on what S106 and CIL money is actually used for.
    Ensure Planning Officers actually work 5 days a week.
    Ensure that Planning Officers are up to the job.
    Eliminate wastage in Local Authorities.

    May make for a more efficient system.

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