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Government housing white paper pledges to boost planning resources

Words: Huw Morris

Planning fees are to be raised by 20 per cent under a government pledge to increase resources announced in the housing white paper.

Planning departments have faced severe cuts in the past seven years, with developers complaining poor capacity is restricting their ability to get on site and build. RTPI data suggests a 37 per cent drop in forward planning and a 29 per cent drop in development control staff between 2010-15.

Under the move, which will be introduced in July, local authorities must commit the additional fee income to their planning departments.

The government said it is “minded” to allow an increase of a further 20 per cent for those authorities delivering “the homes their communities need” and said it will consult further. It has also promised to keep the resourcing of planning departments and fees under review.

The move is the first of a three-pronged approach to boosting planning capacity unveiled in the white paper, launched on 7 February.

In the second, the government will make available £25 million of new funding to help “ambitious authorities in areas of high housing need to plan for new homes and infrastructure”. This will be channelled into engaging communities on the design and mix of new homes.

In the third move, the government will crack down on unnecessary appeals to the Planning Inspectorate which it said “can be a source of delay and waste taxpayers" money. It will consult on introducing a fee for making a planning appeal but is keen that this will not discourage smaller builders from making legitimate claims.

One option under consideration is for the fee to be capped at £2,000 for the most expensive route leading to a public inquiry. Fees would be refunded if an appeal succeeds, with a suggestion of lower charges for less complex cases.

The RTPI welcomed the white paper’s intention to release extra resources but warned that its measures may not be enough to mitigate years of under investment. Resources also need to be made available to help planning authorities cope with the demands of new government policies outlined elsewhere in the white paper, it added.

RTPI president Stephen Wilkinson said it “had been strongly making the argument over many months that policy makers need to get behind planners to make more resources available, to help planners do their job in creating the conditions for planned, high-quality development to increase the affordable housing supply and for improving the economic viability of places”.

Mark Robinson, chief executive of Scape Group, said the government had rightly recognised the role councils play in delivering new homes.

“Without the planning and regeneration officers needed to process applications and complete local plans, the government’s aspiration for hundreds of thousands more new homes will fall flat, he added. “Simply chastising overwhelmed and under-resourced local authorities through a new monitoring system won’t speed things up.

“The government has paid lip service to the financial pressure on planning and regeneration departments, but a crack team of super-planners and special deals for larger authorities will not be enough to tackle a national housing shortage.”

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