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First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2002

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First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 6 March 2002

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2002

The Chairman: Perhaps it would be useful if I said that, for the convenience of hon. Members who feel warm, and unless anyone objects, it is in order to remove jackets, as long as it stops at that.

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Ms Sally Keeble): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2002.

The Regulations were laid before the House on 12 February. They introduce new levels of fees and, if approved by the House and in another place, will come into effect on 1 April. The rationale behind planning application fees is that individual users and potential beneficiaries of the development control system, rather than local taxpayers in general, should meet the costs incurred by local planning authorities in handling and determining planning applications. The work involved includes such activities as statutory notification, consultation and publicity so that interested parties can comment on the development proposed. It also includes corresponding with applicants and objectors, and the time spent by officers and elected members in considering the merits of the case.

Government policy is that the overall income generated by planning application fees should cover the estimated total costs incurred by local planning authorities. Income and estimated costs have been monitored annually to inform decisions on the level of fees. Fees were raised gradually over a number of years until, in 1997, they recovered what was thought to be all of local authorities' costs of determining planning applications. Since then, there has been no increase in fees because there has been no hard evidence on which to base a further change.

Cost estimates, however, were based on the recommendations of a 1992 study, and we recognised that our evidence about the costs of handling planning applications was very out of date and might be inaccurate. So, in June 2000, my Department commissioned research to look afresh at the extent to which the costs incurred by local authorities were recovered in the fees paid by applicants. The research included a review of the basis for estimating costs, including a detailed survey

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of local planning authorities. It concluded that, overall, income is about 14 per cent. adrift from costs for most authorities. The Government therefore propose an increase of approximately 14 per cent. in fees so that, in aggregate across the country, local authorities' fee income will better match the cost of determining planning applications.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I apologise to the Minister, because I must be going slightly deaf. Will she repeat what she just said? Was she saying that the gap between the costs and the fees was of the order of 14 per cent., which was the justification for the 14 per cent. increase?

Ms Keeble: No, I did not quite say that. The increase is approximately 14 per cent., so that, in aggregate across the country, local authorities' fee income will better match the cost of determining planning applications. I did not say that it was exactly the same.

Because the increase is being made across the board, it will not have a heavier impact on particular sectors of business or the community, and there is no present proposal to extend the classes of application for which fees are payable. The change is an interim measure, pending a fundamental review of the fees regime, announced in our planning Green Paper. An increase of such a magnitude will not act as a deterrent to development. Very few householders pay any fee at all, as most minor domestic development does not require a planning application. For those in business, fees remain a very small part of developers' overall costs.

Some figures may help. The minimum fee for a factory or office development would rise from £190 to £220, while the maximum would rise from £9,000 to 11,000. An application to build a new house would attract a fee of £220, and substantial alterations to houses would be charged at £110. For all types of development, that is likely to be a very small proportion of the capital cost of work. The increase in fees proposed in the draft regulations keeps planning application fees at a modest level for developers while enabling local authorities to recover a fair proportion of the costs incurred.

I commend the proposal to the Committee.

4.35 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I am grateful to you, Mr. Amess, for allowing me to catch your eye, and to the Minister for her comprehensive explanation of the proposal, which is not particularly controversial. The Opposition support the principle that applicants should pay the full cost of their applications, as in most cases they benefit because the value of their property is increased. The 14 per cent. rise from the 1997 level is reasonable.

The Minister referred to the fact that consultation on the Green Paper, "Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change" ends on 18 March. What is

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the proposed timetable for the charges? How long does she envisage that the increased charges will last? She mentioned pre-application inquiries, which are not covered by the proposal, but there is a suggestion that they should be charged for, which would increase planning application charges for most people. Are such charges in the Government's mind?

The Minister said that the proposal would not have a heavy impact on businesses, which was a welcome assurance, although I wonder whether certain classes of businesses will be unduly affected.

I declare my interests involving agriculture. I want the Minister to clarify the position in respect of applications involving significant amounts of land. In several of the categories—notably category 1—the charges are based on each 0.1 hectare of land. For example, in the case of a land-based application for a riding school, which included fields, would the applicant have to pay the cost incurred only in respect of the land that the school itself occupied, or would the surrounding land also be included? I should be grateful if the Minister would let us have some information on such matters.

The Minister said that most minor applications do not require permission, but listed buildings require permission and the measure does not refer to costs for listed building consent.

Mr. Foster: There is no cost at the moment.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Helpfully, the hon. Gentleman says that there is no cost at the moment. However, there is a proposal in the planning Green Paper that listed building applications should be streamlined with planning applications. Do the Government intend to charge for listed buildings? There are more listed buildings in my local authority area than almost anywhere else in the country—[Interruption.] I do not think that I have to declare an interest in that respect, Mr. Amess, but the local authority would be interested in the Minister's argument.

There is no need to detain the Committee; I should be grateful for the Minister's reply to my simple questions. I hope that the proposal will have the Committee's approval.

4.38 pm

Mr. Foster: I am well aware that the regulations, which come into force on 1 April in England only, will increase by approximately 14 per cent. the fees payable for planning applications for the erection and alteration of buildings, changes of land use and even for the erection of advertisements. Broadly speaking, I welcome the increase.

The Minister said that developers should meet the costs and that the costs of planning applications should not be met by local council tax payers, but will these regulations achieve that aim? The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said that he accepted the principle that applicants should pay the full cost of their application. I entirely agree, but

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ask him to consider whether the regulations will achieve that aim.

I want to raise three different issues with the Minister. The regulations make it clear that the maximum fee payable to developers for a planning application will rise from £9,500 to £11,000. My local council is currently dealing with a planning application for a major development in the centre of the city of Bath. It is called the Southgate development. Bath and North East Somerset council estimates that to date it has spent in excess of £500,000 in dealing with that application. I hope that the Minister will accept that a total fee maximum of £11,000 bears little or no relation to the £500,000-plus that the council has incurred. Her claim that the developer will pay the full costs and not the council tax payer is incorrect in that case.

My local council is dealing not only with Southgate but with the major spa development—a multi-million pound development in the centre of the city with significant planning application costs. It is also dealing with the major work on solving the problems of Combe Down mine—we are delighted to receive Government support for that—and is shortly to embark on a major development known as Western Riverside, which is the largest brownfield development site outside London. It covers more than 50 acres, which is bigger than the entire centre of Bath. The planning department's costs will be horrendous and clearly will not be taken into account by a total planning application fee of £11,000. Some councils will be like Bath and deal with major developments, but others do not incur such additional costs.

My second concern—again I refer to my local authority area as an example—is that, owing to the historic nature of Bath, any major planning development will include additional work that some other councils will not have to undertake. For example, in nearly all cases, a major environmental impact assessment will be needed into whether the development will impede the flow of the Bath spa waters, and obviously there will be other additional work for archaeological reasons. Those additional costs relate specifically to Bath and are not reflected in the level of the fee charged.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The hon. Gentleman has cited the figure of £11,000 three times. In the spirit of helpfulness that he showed to me, I point out that the maximum under categories 8, 9 and 11 of the regulations is £16,500. So the maximum is more than £11,000.

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman is right to draw my attention to the different categories, because the fee charged will depend on the category. However, the figure that I am quoting relates to my local council's understanding of which category the examples that I have given will fit. Even if I am wrong and the hon. Gentleman is right, and the fee is £16,000 as opposed to £11,000, the comparison with more than £500,000 of expenditure is much the same.

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My final concern picks up on the hon. Gentleman's point about listed buildings. When a planning application is made for a listed building, a fee still has to be paid, but there is an additional requirement for listed building consent, which involves another fee. For many years, it has been accepted that the applicant should not pay that fee, on the reasonable ground—I hope that the Minister agrees—that the owner is already responsible for maintaining the fabric of a property that society has deemed should be in a special category. It would be unfair for that individual to have to take on the additional cost of obtaining listed building consent.

The listed building consent application for a grade 1 or grade 2* listed building requires the local council not only to do all the necessary work, but to consult English Heritage and refer the matter to the Secretary of State. A council with a large proportion of listed buildings, particularly of those grades, faces an additional set of costs that would be met in this case by no fee income whatever.

Bath and North East Somerset council has the largest number of listed buildings in a council area outside the City of Westminster. The constituency of the hon. Member for Cotswold may have a large number of listed buildings, but mine has rather more. Indeed, 20 per cent. of the planning permission applications received by my local council involve obtaining listed building consent. We are talking about 500 applications every year that require listed building consent, with all the complexity and additional costs that the council must bear with no income.

For very large developments, it is not true that the fee chargeable under the regulations will entirely cover the council's costs and that its council tax payers will not have to pay. The fees will also not cover the council's additional costs owing to a special interest, such as the need for an environmental impact assessment, archaeological work and so on. For listed building consent, the fees payable—in this case they are zero—will obviously not cover the local authority's costs.

I am aware that the Minister has made it clear that, following the planning Green Paper, the Government intend to address the first issue that I have raised, but like the hon. Member for Cotswold, I should like to know how quickly that will happen. There is a Green Paper, but we have not yet seen a White Paper and we certainly have not seen legislation. I therefore suspect that we are a long way away from the change in legislation that we want and that, by the time that it is made, the four major projects in my constituency alone will be well under way and the council will not benefit. Is it possible to reconsider that specific issue more quickly, rather than waiting for the final outcome of consultations and deliberations on the Green Paper?

 
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