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Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019

Volume 799: debated on Monday 15 July 2019

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019.

My Lords, I beg to move that these regulations, which were laid before the House on 10 June, be considered. The regulations 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. They will also 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 fees are an important source of income which supports local authorities to have the resources and capacity to make effective planning decisions. It is therefore vital that the fee regulations remain in force.

It is vital that we have well-resourced, efficient and effective planning departments, capable of providing a planning service that local people and applicants expect. Planning application fees provide essential income to enable local authorities to deliver this service, and to consider and determine planning applications. In January 2018, we raised planning application fees by 20%. This was the first uplift since 2012 and it has increased income for the planning system and enabled local planning authorities to improve their performance. We estimate that in England, the total income raised through planning application fees is £450 million per annum. If there were no application fee, this cost would have to be funded by the taxpayer.

I turn to the details of the draft regulations. In Regulation 2, we are removing the sunset clause of 21 November 2019 contained in the existing 2012 fees regulations: namely, the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) Regulations 2012. The sunset clause and a post-implementation review condition were included in the 2012 fees regulations to ensure that the regulations were kept under review and removed from statute if they were no longer necessary. A post-implementation review was undertaken in 2017 and the outcome report laid before Parliament in December 2017. I am pleased to confirm that the review concluded that the objectives of the regulations remain appropriate in providing for the proper consideration of planning applications; therefore, the national planning fees regime should remain in place.

To ensure that the fee regulations remain in place, it is necessary to remove the 21 November sunset clause. This will ensure that applicants continue to pay a fair and consistent fee, and that local authorities will be able to continue to charge planning application fees and have the resource and capacity to make high-quality and timely planning decisions. If the sunset clause was not removed, the fees regulations would cease to have effect after 21 November of this year. This would mean that local planning authorities would no longer be able to charge any fees for planning applications.

Regulations 3(1) and 3(2) introduce a £96 fee for applications for “prior approval” for existing permitted development rights for a larger single-storey rear extension to a house. Perhaps I may summarise the position as it will be if the regulations proceed. This permitted development right allows householders to build larger single-storey rear extensions that are between 4 metres and 8 metres for detached houses, and between 3 metres and 6 metres for all other houses. Extensions smaller than this do not require prior approval and therefore do not attract a fee. Extensions that are larger than 8 metres for detached houses and 6 metres for all other houses would require planning permission in the normal way, so would attract a full planning application fee of £206.

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 general permitted development order. 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 the associated application for prior approval required to exercise that development right attracts no fee. Now the right is permanent, it is appropriate that we should enable local planning authorities to charge and receive a fee for the work that they undertake to process and determine the applications they receive.

A £96 fee will be an additional cost to those home owners wanting to extend their homes in that way. However, that fee is the same as the fee for other applications for prior approval, as the cost to the local authority of handling these types of application is similar—for example, demolition of a building, agricultural buildings and certain solar developments. It is not fair that this cost should continue to be subsidised by the taxpayer generally. The fee is less than the £206 fee that would be required for a full planning application to carry out these 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 regulations continue to provide for existing exemptions in the 2012 fee regulations, such as when an extension provides facilities or means of access for disabled persons; those would continue in just the same way.

We continue to keep the resourcing of local authority planning departments and where fees can be charged under review. Noble Lords will be aware that 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 meet the costs of their planning service through possible additional fees and to deliver improved performance. In the meantime, these regulations ensure that local authorities can continue to charge planning fees, including the new prior approval fee, after 21 November, thus providing them with the resources they need to consider such applications. I commend the regulations to the Grand Committee.

I thank the Minister for that concise and informative introduction. We understand the technical purpose of the SI, and particularly appreciate the need for local authorities to be able to recoup their costs. The uplift of 20% that he mentioned was certainly welcomed, although he is probably as aware as I am that there is still a gap.

Evidence shows that more and more people extend their homes rather than move, so an increasing number of prior approvals are being sought. Therefore, the ability to charge for that will be welcomed. I know from personal experience that there is a reasonable amount of work involved, the more so in larger extensions. Those usually involve conflict with the next-door neighbour, who of course has no means of stopping the development because these are permitted developments. Despite that, councillors and officers get drawn in and it all takes time. I am curious about how the nationally set cost of £96 has been arrived at, alongside other fees. Perhaps the Minister could point me in the right direction for an explanation.

As the Minister said, councils need well-resourced planning departments to deliver the Government’s ambitious housing agenda; on that we agree. There is also a national shortage of planning officers, and the cost of living in different parts of the country differs considerably and means that councils struggle to recruit or have to pay higher salaries if they are to function. Yet these fees are nationally set, so from Land’s End to John O’Groats they are the same. Are there any plans to allow a fair and transparent scheme to give councils flexibility to set appropriate fees that might reflect local circumstances?

Permitted development rights in general are being extended, the latest being, as the Minister said, in May this year, despite some serious opposition from organisations such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Town and Country Planning Association and others that have genuinely well-documented concern that in the Government’s legitimate desire to increase the number of homes, which we would absolutely agree with, issues such as quality and sustainability are being totally neglected, and that the most recent liberalisation of permitted development on the high street could be a blessing or a curse depending on local circumstances. Councils’ only recourse is to apply for an Article 4 direction to remove that automatic right. I know from personal experience of how difficult it was to get an Article 4 direction placed on our premier office headquarters area that this is neither speedy nor simple. We succeeded, but it was an expensive, tough battle. Do the Government keep records of the number of councils that apply for an Article 4 direction and how many are actually granted? The Minister mentioned other reviews; are there any plans to review the impact, good or bad, of the extended permitted development rights, particularly on quality and sustainability?

My Lords, I draw the Committee’s attention to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. As noble Lords have heard, these regulations will remove the sunset clause to enable fees to be charged beyond the date the noble Lord referred to and introduce an additional £96 fee for prior approval applications for larger new extensions.

As far as they go, I am very happy to support the regulations. The increases in fees in recent times have generally been welcome, but it is still fair to say that planning departments are still being subsidised by the local council tax payer. We should try to eliminate that over a period of time. I agree very much with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, who asked how the £96 fee was arrived at. It would be good to hear that from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, because it is a fair point that there are different associated costs across the country. How was this one figure reached? I look forward to hearing that.

I have mentioned many times during these debates that the Government often want to try new things out, such as new pilot schemes. I have asked many times: why can we not find just one volunteer authority to look at full cost recovery of planning fees? Surely we can find just one council in England to do that for us to see whether full cost recovery would work. It might not, and the pilot might show that that is the case, but I cannot see why we cannot find just one council somewhere in England to pilot full cost recovery on planning fees for the Government to see what effect it has. We hear lots of stuff about planning, most of it a load of old nonsense about how planning committees and planning departments are holding up all this housebuilding. It is absolutely rubbish. Was it 300,000 applications without a brick being laid? I know that the noble Lord did not say that, but we read this rubbish all over the place. I do not see why we cannot look at full cost recovery and at how it is not the planning regime, the council or the planning committees holding up housebuilding.

Having said that, I have no objection at all to the regulations. I am very happy to approve them and I look forward to the noble Lord’s response to the few points that I and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, have raised.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for their contributions on the issue of planning fees. I seek to deal with their points in the order they were raised.

I thank the noble Baroness for her general welcome of the 20% increase, which has certainly made a difference to the running of planning departments up and down the country. She rightly referred to the use of prior approval for larger, single-storey, rear-of-house extensions. In the two years up to March 2019 there were just over 52,900 prior approval applications for such extensions of which 81% proceeded. That indicates the importance of the £96 cost.

Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord asked how that cost was arrived at. I referred to the fact that some applications already attracted it. I will not go through the whole list as it is quite long, but I will give a sample and ensure that I send the full list to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. Here are some examples: the erection of an agricultural building; the method of demolition of a building; development consisting of the erection or construction of a click-and-collect facility within the curtilage of a shop; the temporary use of buildings or land and the associated temporary structures for the purpose of commercial filmmaking; the installation, alteration or replacement of solar photovoltaic equipment on the roofs of non-domestic buildings; the change in use of buildings or land from offices in class B1(a)—the list goes on. I accept that the question of how the figure of £96 was arrived at remains but I hope that the fact that it is the consistent amount charged for so many different applications is helpful for the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. I will ensure that it is assessed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, asked about the quality of developments. As I indicated, permitted development rights are delivering additional, much-needed new homes. Of course, all homes are required to meet building regulations right across the board, including in respect of fire safety. We expect all homes to be of good quality, but we are aware of concerns raised about certain developments. That is why we announced in the Spring Statement that we will review permitted development rights for the conversion of buildings to residential use in respect of the quality standards for homes delivered. I think that the noble Baroness made that point relating to Article 4, but I will pick up on it in more detail in a letter; I thank her for what she said.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord both raised the issue of additional fees. The accelerated planning Green Paper will be issued later this year and will look at some of the issues that were touched on. For example, it could cover the point made quite fairly by the noble Lord about a pilot for full cost recovery, although let us wait to see to what extent; there will certainly be an opportunity to look at that matter.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his support. I agree that it is important that we get this right and fund planning departments appropriately; they should be funded by planning applications fees, not cross-subsidy, unless that is what councils want, perhaps in addition to putting in extra staff. That remains a possibility but, in principle, we expect the fees to pay for planning departments. I anticipate that the accelerated planning Green Paper, which will be out later this year, will look at that issue.

Once again, I would be grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord if they would allow me to pick up on their points of detail in correspondence.

Motion agreed.