Following consultation earlier this year, the Government have now confirmed that planning fees are set to rise in England.
The decision involves raising planning application fees by 35% for major applications and 25% for all other applications, commencing April 1st, 2024. Additionally, there will be automatic annual increases based on the Consumer Price Index, capped at 10%. While this move is seen as necessary to generate additional revenue for Councils and keep up with inflation, there are concerns about the lack of ringfencing for these fees. This blog will explore the implications of this decision and how it may affect planning services and applicants.
Ringfencing of Planning Fees:
One of the main points of contention is the absence of ringfencing for the increased planning fees. In the consultation, 88% of respondents supported the proposal to ringfence planning revenue for use solely by Council’s planning departments. Unfortunately, the Government has decided not to adopt this recommendation. By not ringfencing the fees, Councils are free to allocate the extra income as they see fit, potentially diverting funds away from planning services. This lack of dedicated funding could hinder vital improvements to planning departments, ultimately affecting the quality and efficiency of the application process.
Council Services vs. Planning Improvements:
Without ringfencing, there is a risk that the increased planning fees' revenue may be spread across various Council services rather than being directed towards enhancing the planning process. The absence of an incentive to allocate funds specifically for planning improvements may create a situation where Councils prioritise other services. Therefore, causing delays or sidelines in essential improvements, such as investing in modern technology, staff training, and better customer service.
Revoking the 'Free Go' for Applications:
In addition to the fee increase, the Government will revoke the 'free go' for planning applications. Currently, applicants can re-submit for free within a year of withdrawal or refusal. The intention is to encourage better-quality initial submissions and collect higher fees. The current system is rather skewed in favour of the applicant, whilst I am in general agreement with the removal of the fee, I consider that this should have been coupled with penalties for local authorities who unreasonably withhold consent.
Timescale for Planning Guarantee:
Another significant change announced is the reduction in the timescale for the planning guarantee, giving applicants the right to request a refund of planning fees paid when the Local Authority failed to reach a timely decision. The timescale will be lowered from 26 weeks to 16 weeks for non-major applications. While this change aims to speed up the application process, in practice Local Authorities can easily circumvent the requirement to refund fees by requesting an extension of time for determination.
The Government's decision to raise planning fees and the subsequent non-ringfencing of these fees fails to address the underfunding of local authority planning functions. Whilst we can hope responsible local authorities allocate the additional funds to support the improved delivery of planning functions, the risk remains that cash-strapped authorities may find the temptation to divert funds elsewhere simply too appealing.
It is likely that in the months approaching the fee increase means many applicants will seek to get applications submitted prior to the increase deadline. To achieve this, it is essential that developers and landowners wishing to submit an application speak to their planning consultancy and design team early to ensure that all stakeholders have adequate time to prepare a well-considered application.
About Evans Jones:
Evans Jones is a construction consultancy, with offices in Cheltenham, Reading and London which has been in practice for over 50 years. Evans Jones provides professional consultancy services to the commercial sector in the areas of Town Planning, Construction, Development, Building Consultancy, Disabled Access Consultancy (Equality Act) and legal obligations associated with construction and development.
Clients include: Ashford District Council, HSBC, Travelodge, NFU Mutual, British Airways, UCAS, University of Gloucestershire, Liverpool City Council, NHS Foundation, Clarks Shoes, Bovis Homes, Midcounties Co-Operative, British Waterways, Severn Trent Water, Crest Nicholson, Cheltenham College and Cheltenham Ladies College