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Town and Country Planning

Volume 663: debated on Monday 15 July 2019

Before I call the Minister to move motion 3 on town and country planning, I should inform the House that the Speaker has certified that, for the purposes of the Standing Order, it relates only to England and is within devolved legislative competence. I remind Members that the statutory instrument must therefore be approved by both a majority of all Members and of those Members representing constituencies in England.

I beg to move,

That the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 10 June, be approved.

The regulations were laid before the House on 10 June 2019. If approved and made, they will remove a sunset clause in the existing 2012 fees regulations, thereby ensuring that local planning authorities can continue to charge fees for planning applications. Planning fees are an important source of income, supporting local authorities to have the resources and capacity to make effective planning decisions. It is therefore vital that the fees regulations remain in force. The regulations introduce a fee of £96 for prior approval applications for a larger single-storey rear extension to a house. If approved by this House, this new charge will come into effect 28 days after the regulations are made.

Planning application fees are crucial for a well-resourced, effective and efficient planning system. They provide local planning authorities with much-needed income to consider planning applications, which in turn provide new homes and deliver economic growth for our country. In January 2018 we raised planning application fees by 20%—the first uplift since 2012. This has increased income for the planning system and has enabled local planning authorities to improve their performance. We estimate that in England the total income raised through planning applications fees is £450 million. If there was no application fee, this cost would have to be funded by the council taxpayer.

I turn to the details of the regulations. First, the regulations propose to remove the sunset clause of 21 November 2019 contained in the existing 2012 fees regulations, the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) Regulations 2012. By removing the sunset clause, local authorities will be able to continue to charge planning application fees, in accordance with the 2012 fees regulations, beyond that date. If the sunset clause were not removed, the fees regulations would cease to have effect after 21 November. This would mean that local planning authorities would no longer be able to charge fees for planning applications.

The 2012 regulations provided that there should be a review of their operation within five years, to ensure that they continued to achieve their objectives. The accompanying sunset clause meant that no action would be required if it was decided that the regulations were no longer necessary. I am pleased to confirm that the review was undertaken in 2017 and the outcome report laid before Parliament in December 2017. The review concluded that the 2012 fees regulations had achieved their objective. It confirmed that they ensured an effective planning application fee regime, which benefited both applicants and local planning authorities in providing for the proper consideration of planning applications. It is therefore appropriate that I bring these regulations before the House, to ensure that the planning application fees regime continues. The regulations will also ensure that those wishing to take forward development pay a fair fee and that local planning authorities have the resource and capacity they need to make high-quality and timely decisions.

Secondly, the regulations introduce a £96 fee for applications for prior approval for existing permitted development rights for a larger single-storey rear extension to a house. The prior approval process means that a developer has to seek approval from the local planning authority that specified elements of the development are acceptable before work can proceed. The matters for prior approval vary depending on the type of development, and those are set out in the relevant part of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015. A local authority cannot consider any other matters when determining a prior approval application.

The permitted development right for a larger single-storey rear extension to a house was made permanent by way of amendments to the general permitted development order on 25 May, but currently the associated application for prior approval required to exercise this permitted development right attracts no fee. Now that the right is permanent, it is appropriate that we should enable local planning authorities to charge and receive a fee for the work they undertake to process and determine the applications they receive.

Other comparable applications for prior approval have a £96 fee, and we consider that that would also be an appropriate fee for a larger single-storey rear extension to a house, as the cost to the local planning authority of handling these is similar. Although a fee of £96 is an additional cost on homeowners wanting to extend their homes, it is not considered fair that the cost of the applications should continue to be subsidised by all taxpayers. The fee is modest, at less than half of the £206 fee that would be required for a planning application to carry out works to a house were it not for the permitted development rights. It will provide local planning authorities with resources that may otherwise have been diverted from other planning applications.

In line with existing fees for planning applications to alter or extend a home, the draft regulations provide that the fee will not apply where the application is for development designed to provide means of access for a disabled person or facilities designed to secure that person’s greater safety, health or comfort. That will mitigate the potential direct impact of the new fee on disabled persons, who might be considered more likely to make use of the permitted development right for larger home extensions.

We continue to keep the resourcing of local authority planning departments and where fees can be charged under review. We announced in the spring statement that the accelerated planning Green Paper, to be published later this year, will look at new approaches for local authorities to meeting the costs of their planning service and delivering improved performance. In the meantime, the draft regulations will ensure that local authorities can continue to charge planning fees after 21 November, including the new prior approval fee, thus providing them with the important resources they need to consider such applications. I commend the regulations to the House.

I thank the Minister for his outline of this statutory instrument. The important first part of the SI ensures that the fee regime set out in the 2012 regulations is able to continue. Secondly, and perhaps more controversially, the SI amends regulation 14 of the 2012 regulations to include a £96 fee for an application for prior approval to build a larger rear extension to a dwelling house without the need for a full planning application to be made.

The Opposition do not seek to prevent the 2012 regulations from continuing, but we point the Government to their own consultation on devolving fee setting to local authorities. It would be good to have an explanation as to why the Government have failed to act on the outcome of their planning consultation, particularly on full cost recovery. As the Minister will know, the consultation found that there were substantial cross-party concerns that local authority planning departments do not have sufficient resources to provide an effective and wide-ranging service. The majority of respondents from all sectors supported increasing planning fees beyond the 20% increase already given by Government, often citing concerns about the low level of resourcing in local authority planning departments.

There are issues with local fee setting, as it may help resource planning departments better in areas of high growth but does little for those where development is more difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, the issue of getting more money to planning needs to be resolved urgently. Labour’s planning commission has found that poor resourcing of planning departments is the most significant issue raised by communities, planners and developers alike. The Government need to set out clearly what they are going to do to ensure that all planning departments are properly funded.

Total expenditure on planning has fallen by almost 20% since 2010. That fall would be far higher were it not for the fact that spending has been propped up by a 50% rise in planning income. If we remove income from the equation, total net expenditure on planning has fallen by 42% on average, and by up to 60% in some regions, and that of course has led to a huge reduction in the number of public sector planners. In a recent report, the Royal Town Planning Institute showed that when a high number of applications are permitted, with fewer resources committed to each, the main loser may be local communities. Another crucial issue is that planning officers may, as a consequence, have less time truly to engage communities. The impact of austerity on planning is felt keenly by planning officers, who have to operate with fewer resources and to deal with the public dissatisfaction that can arise from that. It would be useful to hear how the Minister intends to address that issue.

The second part of the SI causes significant problems for us and, we think, for the country at large. Since 2013 Labour has been consistently against the ever increasing moves by the Government to replace proper planning permission with permitted development. The fee proposed here, £96 for prior approval for a large extension, is derisory. Large extensions, as the Minister should know from his mailbag, often cause considerable problems for neighbours and the issues involved can be complex, necessitating a great deal of work by local planning officers which will not be covered by the £96 fee by any stretch of the imagination. Large extensions should have to obtain planning permission, and bypassing communities with greater use of permitted development is just wrong.

A recent report from Shelter has made clear the enormous damage the ever increasing use of permitted development has had on the quality of our built environment, highlighting that local authorities can turn down PDR developments only in very limited circumstances, and cannot require social housing contributions or enforce space standards covering minimum sizes, leading to the delivery of rabbit-hutch homes. PDR allows developers to build the slums of the future.

An open letter from the Local Government Association in January 2019 made clear the extensive problems caused by permitted development, as did the large number of people who responded to the Government’s consultation on the extension to permitted development rights just recently. That includes the loss of more than 10,000 affordable homes in the last three years.

We think that the time is long overdue for the Government to get rid of permitted development and ensure proper planning and decent quality homes through the planning determination system and enabling local authorities to charge on a cost-recovery basis. Planners do a difficult and at times a controversial job, and it is time for the Government to resource the system properly.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her remarks. I accept the challenge that if we are to hit 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s we need to find a way to get more resources into local planning departments. It will be one of the constraints on volume, and we are looking at what we can do to enhance their ability to deal with planning applications swiftly and in volume. When we bring out the accelerated planning Green Paper later in the year, no doubt that will be included.

I also recognise the hon. Lady’s longstanding opposition to permitted development rights, although I fear she may be wrapping what is generally a domestic extension by a householder—normally in non-contentious situations —into her general opposition to PDR across the piece. The PD rights for domestic extensions have proved to be successful, and of course we made them permanent earlier this year. I note that when we did so—the hon. Lady and I were both present for that SI—she did not divide the Committee and oppose it.

I recognise the issues that the hon. Lady raises, but £96 will help to mitigate some of the impact of PDR on local authorities and we therefore think it judicious to introduce it in line with many other PDR charges that local authorities are interested in. I commend the regulations to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 10 June, be approved.