Headlines: September 17th, 2004

Consultation has begun on possible increases in the fees local authorities charge for processing planning applications, as the government believes councils must be allowed to recover more of their costs if they are to deliver a first class planning service.The consultation on the full structure of fees, which will run until December 6th has been announced by Planning Minister Keith Hill. He said that the planning delivery grant had gone some way to dealing with the under-funding of the planning system but the fees councils could charge were still far short of the costs of dealing with applications, particularly larger scale ones.

Developers, the general public and councils are being invited to give their views on a series of proposals to increase fees in a way described by the minister as ‘sensibly, and proportionately’. “We are not asking that smaller developers and householders pay huge increases, ” he said.

The proposed rises have been designed to fall differentially on applicants. A small business acquiring a new property and needing to apply for a change of use, for example, would see a fee increase of twenty pounds to 240 pounds. The fees will be linked to the quality of service offered by councils for the first time. Councils that meet targets for dealing with major applications will be allowed to increase the fee by up to 10 per cent to help them meet more of the costs of handling more complex applications. Authorities offering an opportunity for applications to be dealt with online will also have the opportunity to cut fees to encourage efficiency in the system.

Keith Hill said, “Any increase in fees must be accompanied by a raising of the bar when it comes to quality. We don’t expect people to pay more and get less.” The government, he said, wanted to ensure that the fees helped authorities to improve their services.