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20% hike in planning application fees – a step closer

The Government has moved a step closer to delivering one of the Housing White Paper commitments to increase nationally-set planning application fees by 20% by publishing the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 (Regulations) to bring this proposal forward.

Planning Freedoms

In addition to providing for an increase of approximately 20% for all existing fees, the Regulations also:

  1. introduce fees for applications for permission in principle (regulation 3);
  2. allow Mayoral development corporations and urban development corporations to charge for pre-application advice (regulation 4); and
  3. enable fees to be charged where: (i) an LPA has made a direction withdrawing permitted development rights under article 4 of the GDPO; or (ii) permitted development rights have been withdrawn pursuant to a condition imposed on a planning permission (regulation 5(2)).

Certain applications, such as those for listed building consents and demolition of certain buildings in conservation areas, will remain exempt from fees.

Transitional provisions confirm that applications, requests and site visits made before the date on which the Regulations come into will not be subject to the increased fees.

Ring-fencing additional fee income

The Housing White Paper made clear that the 20% uplift in application fees would be conditional on local planning authorities (LPAs) committing to invest the additional fee income into planning services.  The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) invited LPAs to make this commitment and requested budget information to demonstrate how the additional fee income would be spent on planning services.  Unsurprisingly, all of the LPAs elected to make the commitment.

Nonetheless ensuring the additional income is not off-set by cuts in funding, which undermine the resources for dealing with planning applications, remains a key concern. DCLG’s letter made clear that “ the additional revenue should be retained by planning departments and that existing baseline and income assumptions will not be adjusted down as a result during this Parliament.”   Where LPAs fail to comply with the additionality assurances, the letter confirmed that the Government would consider reducing the fee level for that authority back to the original fee level through a change in regulations.  Whether this is simply an empty threat or whether compliance will in practice be policed, will no doubt become clear.

Not far enough?

Given that proposed planning reforms set out in the Housing White Paper place ever increasing demands on LPAs, there is no guarantee that a 20% increase will be sufficient to maintain ‘business as usual’ let alone deliver a more effective, efficient planning service. Particularly given that fees were last increased back in 2012 and have been gradually eroded by inflation ever since.

Indeed, there are concerns in some quarters that the changes do not go far enough. While the increase in fees will no doubt be welcomed by LPAs, the measures fall short of allowing LPAs to set fees at a local level.  As a result, LPAs in some areas will still not recover their full costs for processing planning applications.  In this respect, the Local Government Association recently warned that tax payers will be subsidising the cost of processing planning applications to the tune of £1 billion by 2022.

Next steps

Once the Regulations are approved by both House of Parliament, the Regulations will come into force on the 28th day after they are made. In the meantime, the Consultation ‘Planning for the right homes in the right places’  is seeking views on when LPAs who are delivering the homes their communities need should be allowed to increase fees by a further 20%.  The consultation closes on 9 November 2017.