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UK government considers allowing increased planning fees where councils perform well

Out-Law News | 16 Feb 2016 | 3:45 pm | 1 min. read

Communities secretary Greg Clark has announced that he will consult on whether to reward good performance by certain council planning teams with the opportunity to increase their planning application fees. 

Addressing parliament last week, Clark said "well-performing councils" might be allowed to "increase their fees in line with inflation at the most, provided that the revenue reduces the cross-subsidy the planning function currently gets from other council tax payers".

Planning expert Lucy Close of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "Many will welcome this latest move and see it as a step in the right direction as it encourages good performance whilst, in theory, reducing the cost of planning applications to the public purse. It is likely that some applicants would be willing to pay more to get a better service. However it will be interesting to see how this will actually manifest itself in practice and whether it will make a significant difference to performance and subsidy levels. "

The proposal follows changes to the Housing and Planning Bill last month that would simplify the parliamentary process for setting planning fees. An impact assessment (133-page / 1.0 MB PDF) accompanying amendments to the Bill said this would prevent "future action to link fees more effectively to local standards of performance" from being delayed or frustrated.

The impact assessment also suggested that proposals to allow 'alternative providers' to process planning applications might involve a range of fees, including a 'fast-track' service. 

"Competition is expected to create a more diversified offer in terms of the speed and fee of services available to planning applicants, for example, approved providers and local planning authorities participating in pilot schemes may offer a guarantee to process planning applications more quickly in return for a higher fee (a ‘fast-track’ service)", said the assessment.

"It could increase costs for some applicants and it could be that some applicants for planning permission may not be able to pay for any premium service which is offered," it said.

The proposed conditional fee rise falls short of changes requested last year by local authority representative body the Local Government Association (LGA). The LGA twice called for councils to be able to set their own planning fees to bring them in line with the amount of money spent processing planning applications.