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04/11/2015

Councils spend £450m topping up planning fees

Words: Laura Edgar

Local councils have been forced to spend £450 million to cover the cost of planning applications in the past three years, according to Local Government Association (LGA) analysis.

Planning fees are currently nationally set, preventing councils from recovering the full cost of the “467,000 planning applications submitted on average each year”.

The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, estimates that this has left local taxpayers covering a third of the cost of planning applications since 2012, which was when the legislation covering fees came into force.

Analysis conducted by the LGA found that the cost of planning applications is growing by at a rate of £150 million a year and will pass £1 billion by 2020. This could have paid for the training of 115,000 young people with construction skills or filling in almost 8.5 million potholes.

Therefore, the LGA is urging the government to free councils from having to divert “limited resources away from vital services” by allowing them to set their own planning fees as part of the comprehensive spending review.

The LGA’s spending review submission states that “introducing locally set planning fees to ensure effective, responsive and fully funded council planning services, removing the burden from taxpayers who currently subsidise 30 per cent of total costs”.

The call follows several surveys and pieces of research that found private sector respondents would be willing to pay increased fees to help under-resourced planning departments to continue to provide effective services, including studies by the British Property Federation and GL Hearn, and the Confederation of British Industry and AECOM.

Peter Box, LGA housing spokesperson, said it is “unacceptable” for communities to cover a third of the cost of planning fees and the government should recognise the pressure placed on planning departments as a result.

“The spending review should allow local authorities to recover the actual cost of applications and end such a needless waste of taxpayers' money when developers are willing to pay more.

"The number of planning applications being submitted is on the rise, but councils are working flat out to approve almost nine in every 10 planning applications. Locally set fees would also allow councils to protect residents from hiked fees while developers and house builders could pay more to improve the ability of councils to speed up the planning process and maintain high-quality planning decisions."

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the BPF, added: “The government has talked a lot about how much it wants to get Britain building again, and ahead of the spending review we would strongly advise against further national cuts to planning departments if it wants to make this a reality. Instead, we would like to see government undertake a review looking at how the private sector might be able to make additional payments to planning departments in return for a quality service."

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