Last reviewed 14 July 2015

Local government funding has been reduced by 40% over the past 3 years, and further reductions are expected. David Alexander examines current planning fees and the options for future funding since the last 12% increase in 2012.

Background

When planning permission is required, most applications attract a fee payable to the appropriate local authority. Such fees currently cover about two-thirds of the cost of running the planning service. The current fees commenced on 15 April 2015 (The Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) Regulations 2012).

Fees framework

Current fees are structured as follows.

  • All outline applications: £385 per 0.1 hectare for sites up to and including 2.5 hectares; £9527 plus £115 for each 0.1 hectare in excess of 2.5 hectares, to a maximum of £125,000.

  • Householder applications: £172 for alterations and extensions to a single dwelling.

  • Full applications and first submissions of reserved matters: £339 for alterations and extensions to two or more dwellings; £385 per dwelling for up to and including 50 new dwellings; £19,049 plus £115 per additional dwelling for more than 50 dwellings, to a maximum of £250,000; separate floor space calculations for the erection of buildings other than dwellings, agricultural, glasshouses, plant or machinery; buildings on land used for agricultural purposes; the erection of glasshouses and the erection/alteration/replacement of plant and machinery.

  • Applications other than building works, including car parks, serviced roads or other accesses: £195; use of land for disposal of waste £195 for each 0.1 hectare up to 15 hectares and £29,112 plus £115 for each 0.1 hectare in excess of 15 hectares, up to a maximum of £65,000; exploratory drilling for oil and natural gas; operations for the winning and working of oil and natural gas; winning and working of other minerals.

  • Lawful development certificates.

  • Prior approval: 16 categories with fees varying from £80 in 11 cases to £172 in 4 cases and £385 in 1 case.

  • Reserved matters following outline approval: full fee plus £385.

  • Approval/Variation/Discharge of Conditions: removal or variation £195; confirmation of compliance of conditions, £28 per request for householder cases, otherwise £97.

  • Change of use of a building to one or more separate dwelling houses: £385 for each dwelling up to 50 dwellings; £19,049 plus £115 for each dwelling in excess of 50, up to a maximum of £250,000.

  • Other change of use of a building or land: £385.

  • Advertising: relating to the business on the premises £110; advance signs directing to a business £110; other adverts £385.

  • New permission to replace an Extant Planning Permission: major developments £575; household developments £57; other developments £195.

  • Non-material amendment following planning permission: householder £28; other developments £195.

Exemptions from payment

  • Dwellings for disabled persons; listed building consent; relevant demolition in a Conservation Area; works covered by Tree Preservation Orders, or in Conservation Areas and connected with Hedgerow Removal.

  • First revision of an application on the same site by the same applicant within 12 months of an earlier application, subject to an Article 4 Direction.

  • Applying for a lawful development certificate for existing use, where planning permission is exempt.

  • Consent to display an advert following withdrawal or refusal of an earlier application.

  • Alternate proposals for the same site by the same applicant.

  • Conditions relating to a Listed Building or Conservation Area.

  • Certificate of lawfulness for proposed works to a Listed Building.

  • Prior approval: for proposed larger home extensions and collection facilities, commercial film-making and photovoltaics on non-domestic buildings.

Reductions to payment

  • Non-profit making sports clubs for playing fields not involving buildings: £385.

  • Parish or community council applications: 50% reduction.

  • Alternative proposals on the same site by the same applicant on the same day, but of lesser cost: 50% reduction.

  • Reserved matters and lawful development certificates: the highest amount (plus half that of the others) applies if within several fee categories; where applications cross local authority boundaries, the fee is 150% to the authority with the largest part.

Fee proposals

The Planning Advisory Service (PAS) carried out a benchmarking exercise involving 276 English local authorities. It estimated that planning fee income covers around two-thirds of the costs of processing applications. In 2012/13, 625,000 planning applications were made, totalling £379.1 million, of which the fees totalled £222.9 million.

Only major non-residential application fees covered the costs of processing. Householder fees covered only 32% of their costs. The net effect of this disparity is the need for central government to subsidise the gap, just when they are seeking significant financial savings.

The 2012 fee increase was the first for four years, but the consultation included an option to decentralise fees, with local authorities able to set their own charges and recover their own costs. Such locally set fees would better reflect local circumstances and market conditions.

While only 30% of respondents opposed the proposals that the Government wanted to introduce, it declined to do so on the grounds of complexity and a need for further consideration. According to a “Planning” editorial (5 June 2015), the Government should commit to a regular fee review at least every four years.

Because of significant concerns that the fees deficit may affect both the speed and quality of the planning service, the Local Government Association has been invited to present shared proposals on future planning fees. Together with the Planning Advisory Service, British Property Federation, Home Builders Federation, Federation of Master Builders, Planning Officers Society and the The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), a number of options have emerged (see www.local.gov.uk).

  • Option 1: A flat increase in national fee structure, uprated in line with inflation since 2012. This would not reflect disparity between different types of development in different areas of the country.

  • Option 2: A national fee structure with flexibility, giving a national index but with the option to adjust to lower or higher costs of services. There would be no need for a myriad of individual fee structures, but equally no variance in processing costs across the country.

  • Option 3: A national fee but with an “end-to-end” structure. This would include a limited pre-application engagement, together with the application itself and post-application conditions. A “bonus” fee is suggested to incentivise positive planning that delivers development.

  • Option 4: A sub-regional framework with quality related flexibility. This would see fees reflect market differences, along with different rates for different services and potentially staged payments to include pre-application, application and post application (condition) stages. It is consistent with the Government’s ambition for greater local devolution and business engagement.

The overall view of the RTPI is that Option 1 is the most popular short-term measure that can be implemented quickly. Option 4 was also warmly received, but with concerns over the practicalities of implementation.

Conclusion

Planning fees are central to covering the costs of processing and administering planning services, both at development management and development plans level. While fees essentially concern applications, local and neighbourhood plans provide the framework for deciding such applications and an element of the fee should reflect the plan-making process. The new Secretary of State, Greg Clarke, must give this issue greater priority.