Planning fees and performance
With the Government’s consultation on increasing planning fees now closed, Assistant Director of the British Property Federation, Sam Bensted, shares members’ views on the proposals.
The British Property Federation (BPF) has long been an advocate of the private sector paying more to receive better, faster services from local authority planning departments, so it was welcome to see the BPF’s position referenced in the introduction of the Government’s consultation on increasing planning fees and building capacity, which has just closed.
BPF members are broadly supportive of the proposed 35% increase in planning fees for major applications, so long as the money results in a real-terms increase in resource for local planning services. Given the current shortage of public sector planners, the inevitable challenge for local authorities will be to translate the additional resource into more planners on the ground.
An important measure of whether the proposals are effective in practice will be the extent to which any ringfenced income from the fee increases is truly additional rather than notionally so. It would be highly unsatisfactory if fees were to increase, only for resources originally earmarked for planning from a central local authority ‘pot’ are subsequently directed elsewhere, meaning the overall level of resource for planning remains the same or even goes down.
This scenario should certainly be something policy makers are alive to when the fee increases likely kick in this summer not least because the ability of local authorities to move financial resources around more broadly is dealt with through separate local authority finance legislation and associated regulation. Councils will still therefore in theory be able to divert other resources away from planning departments leading to a potential reduction in planning budgets in overall terms despite the increase in planning fees.
There were also a range of views from members expressed on the operation and effectiveness of Planning Performance Agreements (PPAs). We heard that PPAs generally work best for major development schemes as the arrangements are delivered at scale so a good level of service can be achieved. The other side of the coin is however that smaller developers operating in the market can receive a lower level of service given that in many instances the fee for a bespoke PPA arrangement is not something that can be afforded by many. Members also noted that there should be greater levels of transparency and consistency across local authorities in terms of the fees charged for PPAs and what level of service applicants can expect in return.
"We will need not just local planning departments to be resourced effectively but all departments and agencies involved in our planning system to be firing on all cylinders"
One notable omission from the consultation is any direct focus on enhancing planning resourcing for statutory consultees. However, it is worth noting that a recent Government amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is proposing to enable certain government bodies to be able to charge fees for advice relating to planning permissions and approvals.
It is therefore welcome that Government appears receptive to the need to resource all parts of the system that processes and comments on planning applications. For example, we heard from members instances where comprehensive PPA arrangements were in place locally however significant delays in progressing applications were still being experienced owing to the local planners having to wait to hear back from other parts of the council (not covered by the PPA) or relevant public bodies who need to comment on the application before it could proceed further.
Such examples reinforce the broader point that if we are to move towards a more efficient and effective planning system every stage of the process should be working properly. We will need not just local planning departments to be resourced effectively but all departments and agencies involved in our planning system to be firing on all cylinders to bring about substantive and lasting change.
You can read the BPF's response to the consulation here.