The prospect of local authorities being able to increase their fees for managing planning applications has been raised by housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire, as part of a long-awaited Accelerated Planning Green Paper.
With many departments relying on temporary staff from overseas and university courses closing through lack of demand, the shortage of local authority planners and under-resourcing of departments has been an acute problem for some time.
Planning Delivery Grant was introduced in 2003, linked to a 13-week target for decisions. For the next five years, £110m a year was allocated in grants. In the same period, £4.8m was spent on student bursaries to increase the number of qualified planners. Fee increases of 25% and 23% were introduced in 2005 and 2008.
But the problem, which was highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee in 2008 continued, hampering the Government’s ability to deliver changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, designed to boost housing supply.
Mr Brokenshire’s announcement has been widely welcomed. Some stakeholders, including the Royal Town Planning Institute, have been calling for English local authorities to be allowed to raise fees to cover the entire administrative cost of the planning application function.
The construction sector would be less than happy with such an approach, particularly small builders who have complained that the increased planning fees already imposed don’t seem to have speeded things up.
Richard Blyth, RTPI Head of Policy and Research, commented: "We are delighted to see that Mr Brokenshire has taken note of our proposals. We have been talking to our members and will be contributing to the forthcoming Accelerated Planning Green Paper. We look forward to working with the Government on its proposals."
Martin Tett, Local Government Association’s Housing spokesman, said that council tax payers were currently subsidising planning application administration to the tune of £200m a year.
He commented: "It is good that the Government recognises our call for council planning departments to be given greater resources if they are to ensure applications are processed as efficiently and effectively as possible. Councils need to be able to set their own planning fees."
Announcing the proposals at the CIEH’s annual housing conference in Manchester, Mr Brokenshire said: "The planning system is not a barrier to housebuilding – with councils approving nine in 10 applications, and the majority processed quickly while hundreds of thousands of homes have been given planning permission but are yet to be built."
He said that the green paper would look at creating "greater capacity and capability within local planning authorities, stronger plan-making, better performance management and procedural improvements, including in the process of granting planning permissions."
Currently, he said, only half of the annual £1bn spent on local authority planning functions was covered by fee income. The green paper would launch pilots of new approaches to meeting the costs of planning.
Councils would be expected "to demonstrate measurable improvements within their performance – not just in terms of speed, but very firmly also in terms of quality".
Other Brokenshire announcements:
- Government may appoint a new homes ombudsman to deal with shoddy standards in new-build
- Consultation on redress for purchasers of new build homes
- Ground rents on new leases reduced to zero, preventing leaseholders being charged exorbitant fees, and the sale of leasehold houses will be banned
- Nineteen new garden villages delivering 73,000 new homes. They will include a facility for people with dementia at St George’s Barracks in Rutland
- Proposals to make it easier for renters to transfer deposits between landlords when moving
- Rogue landlord database could be accessed by tenants
- Half of the £2bn of long term funding to 2028-29 for housing associations will go to London
- Planning process for families wishing to extend their properties to be improved.