UK Property Forums partners are wary as to whether Government proposals to substantially increase planning fees will help local authorities provide a better service. 

The consultation period over the increases has now ended and there are fears the increases alone are not enough to solve the system’s problems.

We asked members of our panel what they thought of plans which will see fees increase by 25 per cent (35 per cent for major applications) and there was a guarded welcome, along with suggestions that the extra money needs to be funnelled directly into improving services.

Group sales & land manager for Darcliffe Homes, Jonny Denton, said: “A controversial issue!  A massive hike in planning fees is proposed, but then planning departments are under-resourced. Provided the money is actually used to better resource planning departments then is should be beneficial. However, I am sceptical!

“From our point of view, we would be happy to pay more if it helped the service. As we write, we have been waiting six months for a response on approval of a material schedule, whilst chasing regularly!

“This addition is, however, yet another item to add to the growing list of increased costs associated with development across all departments; build costs, new heating systems, biodiversity – the sheer scale of reports now required.

“The list goes on and, with land values remaining high and the sales market softening, it does feel life in development is pretty tough right now.

“I don’t foresee a break any time soon and with planning becoming ever more political, it is likely to get worse.”

Managing director of Evans Jones, David Jones, said: “It is widely acknowledged that increasing planning fees may provide much-needed funding for local government to address the long-standing underfunding of local planning teams.

“It can also help attract suitable staff and stem the brain drain to the private sector.

“Developers are expected to support fee increases when they are coupled with a demonstrably improved service, leading to faster decision-making.

“It is not uncommon for the eight-13 week application deadline to be regularly and significantly exceeded.

‘If the increase in fees is coupled with the ring-fencing of additional funds and increased staffing, it could help expedite the process. However, simply increasing fees is not a solution in isolation. Additional resources must be allocated properly to ensure that tangible benefits are realised.

“While there is hope that fee increases can bring about necessary improvements to assist planning authorities, it is essential that resources are allocated effectively to ensure that the benefits are tangible.”

Managing director at WWA, Philip Waddy, said: “At the beginning of my career there were no planning fees. Planning was seen as an essential public service, free at the point of use. Planning officers were accessible, happy to meet face to face or on site.

“If I had a particular problem I could call the head of planning and chat it over freely. Applications were dealt with efficiently and in a timely fashion.

“For many years I chaired the RIBA Planning Group. When consulted on the subject of fees, our response was always the same – clients don’t object to paying for a quality service.

“Sadly, each time the fees increase the service deteriorates to the parlous state we are in now. Money isn’t the only problem but fees must be ringfenced for planning and not syphoned off to fund other local government services.

“Planning officers have left in droves to join private consultancies like WWA because their professionalism is more highly regarded and the rewards better.

“Politics plays its part as well. How demoralising to work for years on a new Local Plan only to have it thrown out by a change of political direction.

“I would like to see an element of privatisation in planning – it could help diffuse the politics.”

Boyes Turner partner Derek Ching said: “The proposed increase in planning fees seems steep (25 per cent except where there is a major application when the increase is 35 per cent) but, given the shortfall in funding for planning services, it seems inevitable.

“These fees are to be indexed too and the existing ‘free go’ for re-submissions is to disappear. For developers, the question is ‘will we see any improvements in service level?’

“For councils with chronic staff shortages it remains to be seen whether they will start offering market level salaries to compete with the private sector. If not, there seems little chance of making the system work.”

Head of South East for DevComms, Paul Vicary, said: “Planning and development, particularly where houses are built in local communities, has moved up the political agenda and was a campaign issue in last week’s local elections.

“Increased planning fees should deliver a step change in resources for local authority planning departments, which are widely known to have suffered from significant budget and staffing cuts in recent years.

“It is vital for the development industry and local communities that planning fee income is ringfenced for this purpose to help planning authorities deliver high-quality and efficient planning services, ensuring that the right development can come forward in the right places.”

In a joint response, Andy Moffat, head of planning at Savills in Cambridge and Sam Hollingworth, associate director in the planning team at Savills in Chelmsford, said any steps that improve the efficiency of planning departments were to be welcomed – but said it was important that any potential increase in fees was seen in the context of other price rises.

The statement said: “It is obviously very important for the economy, the environment and for addressing wider social issues – such as the provision of much needed new housing – that local planning authorities are properly resourced and we would of course welcome any moves that improve the efficiency of the planning process.

“However at the same time it’s important to note that the proposals for increasing fees are also taking place at a time when other costs to developers – such as contributions to infrastructure and the cost of construction more generally – are rising.”

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