There are a number of developments in the pipeline that will impact the planning industry from last month’s budget…
Following on from our blog in November and the recent budget announcement, there are more impending changes that will affect the industry:
Planning application fees
One of the other notable changes that appears close to fruition is the long-anticipated increase in application fees. At the end of last month, the draft regulations made provision for approximately a 20% increase in all existing fees to be paid to LPAs (Local Planning Authorities). However, it is now apparent that the fee increase will not come into force before January 2018. The draft regulations were approved by the House of Lords’ grand committee on 6th December. The proposal will now be debated next week in the House of Commons and all things being well, the regulations should come into effect early next year.
Various consultants have expressed the opinion that while applicants might be happy to accept the fee increase, this is on the basis that it is ring-fenced for use solely by planning departments. However, they also believe that the fee increase will result in few tangible improvements to the planning service, or improve or speed up decision-making. This is despite the fact Communities Minister, Lord Bourne, said the new planning fees could generate in excess of £75 million of additional income for LPAs, which is equivalent to the average salary of 1,600 planners.
Apex Planning Consultants is happy to say we have seen improvement in some planning departments with streamlined processes and enhanced service provision among planning officers, but this is all too often a rarity and the system still breaks down when the political dimension takes hold.
There has, however, been declarations of intent to address the lack of plan-making progress – Secretary of State, Sajid Javid announced at the start of November that he had formally begun the process of removing plan-making powers from 15 of the 70 authorities that have failed to produce a local plan since 2004.
You can read the full article here. However, there is still scope for these LPAs to retain their plan-making powers, so this may just be a shot across the bows to stimulate meaningful activity and tangible progress. But, is this really a viable course of action?
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 allows the Secretary of State to take the plan-making powers of LPAs away. ‘Planning Resource’ recently stated that a ‘DCLG source’ (Department for Communities and Local Government) indicated that such powers are unlikely to be brought in-house by central government, and the options being considered include the Planning Inspectorate and planning consultancies.
The former already has a significant resource issue dealing with planning appeals, which are frequently placed in abeyance until a Planning Inspector can be assigned, so this option is probably unlikely. Larger planning consultancies may have the resource and expertise, but it remains to be seen whether any can demonstrate that they would not be prejudiced by clients’ interests within or adjacent to the local authority area.
In addition, the funding that will be made available may be crucial before a larger consultancy decides it would be interested. But, if the Secretary of State does enforce this power it could sound the death knell to the long-standing division of roles in the planning system.
More news from the Autumn Budget:
- Stamp duty for first-time buyers has been abolished on the first £300,000 of their property price (on properties up to £500,000). This will certainly give the housing market the feel-good factor, even if it doesn’t actually add much financial value.
- There’s good news for house builders and developers as the housing market is to be supported by a £44bn injection and planning reform, which should lead to five new market garden towns and another 300,000 houses by the middle of the next decade.
- There’s also £1.5bn for the Home Builders Fund, which provides loans for SME housebuilders that are struggling to get finance.
- Closer to home, there is the promise of 100,000 new homes for Oxfordshire by 2031.
- Councils also get more power – they will be able to charge 100% council tax premium on empty properties, there will £1.1bn in the pot to help unlock strategic sites and regenerate housing estates, and there is to be a review to consider allowing the compulsory purchase of land that has been banked by developers for financial reasons.
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