Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. If impact fees were introduced, would legal agreements be banned?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, if impact fees were introduced, I think you would still need to have some sort of legal agreement whereby the developer would then commit itself to whatever the particular amount was.

  21. If the development had a positive impact on the environment, would an impact fee be waived?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I could envisage that there might be circumstances in which the nature of the development would lead to whatever the standard rate is—I am not saying it might be impact fee—being reduced, but it seems to me that that would be covered in the site specific issues rather than saying, "If you do this, you do not have to pay."

Mr Grayling

  22. Can I turn to the issue of planning fees. First of all, do you think there is a case for a change in the system so that costs for the initial application are met from the public purse but that the fee impact is actually diverted towards appeals and you pay if you want to try and question a planning decision rather than if you need to submit one in the first place?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I think the right course is that planning fees should be paid by applicants for planning permission. I think it is right that, if you want planning permission, then you should broadly pay a fee in relation to it. I do not think anyone has any serious proposals that we abolish planning fees, quite the reverse.

  23. Given the fact that fees at the moment really do not meet the costs of running planning departments in local authorities, are you considering increasing planning fees and, if that were to happen, what would you do to demonstrate that there was something for the extra money, that it was a better service for those making applications?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think that we need to look at the issue of whether or not you increase planning fees. At the moment, there is no publication by local authorities of what is actually done with the planning fees. If you increased planning fees, for example, I think people would be entitled to say, "What have you done with the extra money that local authorities can now raise in relation to planning fees?" and I think people would also like to see whether or not it was actually spent on planning. I do not for one moment think it would be right to ring-fence planning fees, but it may well be that the appropriate course is to see if one can make local authorities actually publish accounts in relation to what happens to planning fees.

  24. Is there a case for asking major developers to pay more for their applications and, if one goes down that road, how do you actually ensure that it does not look like they are buying planning permission?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think the position already is that fees are different for planning applications depending on the scale of the application that is made[1], so there is already a distinction between the domestic application and the commercial application, so I think there is scope already in the system and the question is, should one be increasing the upper limit of what those planning fees should be?

  25. Moving on to national Government policy, there are three elements at the moment: circulars, PPG notes and you have good practice advice.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  26. Are you satisfied with that fairly diverse mix of flows of advice coming to authorities?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think you would always need that three-stream of documents coming out of central government. I think you need to look very carefully—as I said on the last occasion I was here—to reducing the quantity of material that comes from central government because one of the great problems about the planning system is its complication and part of its complication comes from the great raft of material coming down from central government, and I think we want to see whether or not one can actually reduce the burden of that primarily by, as it were, reducing the amount of PPGs there are, not in terms of the areas they cover necessarily, but try to actually focus them on the critical policy issues.

  27. Please forgive me, Lord Falconer, I have to apologise to you because I have been landed with a Standing Committee this morning as well, but the Chairman has kindly allowed me to divert briefly away from planning matters. Could I ask you to talk about the recent reports that you are considering splitting the Dome site and perhaps handling and leasing the Dome separately from the land around it. Is there any truth in that at all?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What I have said about the sale of the Dome was that we did some market testing and, on the advice of the people who advised us in relation to that, we are now talking to a smaller number of serious bidders. The way to promote a sensible deal that is value for money, delivers a sustainable future for the Dome and provides regeneration benefits for North Greenwich is if those negotiations continue without there being great publicity or me giving a running commentary on those negotiations. So, it seems to me that the right course is not to speak about the detail of those negotiations.

Mrs Dunwoody

  28. So we want total clarity in planning but not of course if we are dealing with anything sensitive.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am trying to be sensible about the way negotiations are conducted with the small number of bidders with whom we are engaged at the moment.

  29. My Lord, I would not dream of accusing you of not being sensible!  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Thank you.

Mr Grayling

  30. Has a cost benefit analysis been done from the point of view of the public purse about the options of knocking the Dome down and treating the site as a completely demolished site and retaining the Dome?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, it has and value for money is one of the elements that we have always made clear has to play a part in making a decision about the future of the Dome and no value for money calculation can be done without considering what the site would be like without the Dome on it.

  31. Can I talk about the funds that will come back from the disposal of the Dome and indeed the funds that will, one would imagine, come back to some degree from the winding up of the New Millennium Experience Company. First of all on that latter point, what actually happens to the NMEC funds when it is finally wound up? If there is any surplus, what is the legal position of that surplus?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) NMEC was not a company set up to make a profit ... I wondered how long it would take for there to be a reaction to that.

Mrs Dunwoody

  32. Just as well! I did like that!  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The NMEC was always going to be funded by a combination of Millennium Commission money and receipts from people who went to the Dome and spent money there and associated marketing activities. NMEC is unlikely to require all of the money that was ultimately set aside by the Millennium Commission to fund it, so what will happen is that the Millennium Commission will simply pay less grant down than was otherwise expected to be required.

Mr Grayling.

  33. I thought the grant had already been paid.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, it has not. There will be no surplus because, as I say, the money ultimately comes from the Millennium Commission and it will pay less down than is required. I cannot tell you at the moment what that amount will be because the books are not yet closed as far as NMEC is concerned, but NMEC will not hold on to any money other than that necessary to meet any outstanding liabilities.

  34. Presumably the proceeds from the development or the sale of the Dome or whatever will go back to the National Lottery through the Millennium Commission?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The proceeds of whatever arrangements are made with the Dome and the North Greenwich Peninsula will be divided as between those arms of government or the Lottery as reflect their contribution to what has been sold.

Mrs Dunwoody

  35. So the Treasury will get its sticky fingers on as much as it can.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It depends what you mean by the Treasury.

  36. I know exactly what I mean by the Treasury as do probably one or two other Scots members!  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) English Partnerships, for example, are the people who presently own both the land and the Dome and the land of the North Greenwich Peninsula. Plainly, they will get a substantial part of the sale of the Dome and the North Greenwich Peninsula. I do not know if that fits into the rubric of the Treasury in Mrs Dunwoody's mind, but that is central government obviously.

Mr Grayling

  37. Although effectively a large amount of extra money was taken from the National Lottery pot to put into the Dome over and above what was originally authorised by Parliament.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  38. When the proceeds from the Dome eventually come back through sale or possibly the reduced grant to the NMEC at the end, not all that money will go back into the Lottery pot, some will come back to the Government or come back to the Government purse.  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The way you divide the proceeds has to reflect what has been sold to whoever buys the Dome and the North Greenwich Peninsula or participates in the development of it.

  39. Do you have a sense of timetable? When can we actually expect the Dome to be disposed of?  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think it would be inappropriate for me to give any estimate in relation to time. It will happen sooner rather than later, but I do not want to commit myself to a timetable.

1   The point made here was correct in detail, ie cost of project is not a criteria, but scale is. Back

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