The government proposal to allow local authorities to charge what they like for planning applications has been branded ‘outrageous’ and a ‘reward for inefficiency’
As part of the Coalition’s localism agenda, consultation has been launched on a white paper which could end fees being set centrally, allowing councils to set fees to cover their full costs from April 2011.
The proposal is intended to fill a ‘£230 million black hole in the planning system’.
Brian Waters of the Association of Consultant Architects said: ‘The more inefficient the authority, the more it will be able to justifiably charge.
‘This is completely outrageous. The local monopoly on processing planning applications has to be smashed. There should be competition and the ability to choose which local authority processes your application.’
Research for the government carried out by Arup showed that the current fixed planning fees mean that councils are undercharging for planning services and effectively are being subsidised by council tax payers.
Michael Chambers, director of policy at the British Property Federation, believes the new plans would shift that burden to developers: ‘Inevitably there will be problems arising from this, not least that with cuts to local authority budgets, developers could be faced with much higher fees for a poorer service. There is a real fear that costs will simply be piled on to the developer.’
Meanwhile, Westminster Council and seven other councils including York and Stratford on Avon have written to Greg Clark, the government minister for decentralisation who is overseeing the proposed reform, asking for listed building consents to also carry a fee.
The letter reads: ‘Most listed building alterations cost many thousands of pounds to carry out. Not only would a small charge for an application - which is likely to be as low as a couple of hundred pounds - be insignificant for the applicant, it would remove the burden of the cost being met by local taxpayers.
‘Listed building, conservation area and tree application also require specialist staff. With local authorities being required to make significant savings over the coming months, it is important to ensure this specialism is retained if we are to avoid compromising on our heritage.’
In response James Pickard of Cartwright Pickard said: ‘If this means that these fees will contribute to a higher caliber of staff, then it is a good thing. Listed buildings require highly skilled decision makers, who are experienced enough to make informed verdicts swiftly. I am in favour of any change that would lead to clarity and promptness within the planning application process.”’