CIH, BPF and RTPI welcome plan but warn much more is needed to improve planning system

Housing and planning bodies have welcomed plans to increase application fees by 35% but have warned it will not be enough on its own to fix the planning system.

The government’s consultation into proposals to increase fees closed yesterday. It is proposing a 35% increase for major applications – defined for residental schemes as 10 or more dwellings on sites of at least 0.5 hectares - and a 25% increase for all other applications.

town hall

The measure, the government says, is intended to address an “absence of adequate resources and capability” in town hall planning departments which has meant the “core planning application service is not consistently performing at the level it should”.

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) welcomed the move but warned it will not be sufficient alone to fix the system.

Hannah Keilloh, policy and practice officer at CIH, said: “Increasing planning fees is a welcome first step but they will not be a ‘silver bullet’ to meeting the capacity requirements and historic underfunding of local authority planning teams.”

Keilloh added that it is “important that local authority teams are provided with the additional resources and support needed to deliver an effective planning service, facilitated by skilled and experienced planners and other technical and built environment specialists.”

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) also welcomed the proposals but it too said the fee increase would not be “silver bullet”.

Richard Blyth, head of policy practice and research at the RTPI said: “Increased planning fees will provide crucial assistance to local planning authorities in urgent need of support.

“However, while increased fees are an important first step, we do not see them as a silver bullet to meeting the capacity requirements.

“We’ve also encouraged Government to address the fundamental questions on how our planning system will ensure good – not just fast – decisions in the public interest.”

>>See also: Inside the council planning department resource crisis

>>See also: Centralised pool of experts could solve local authority planning crisis

The RTPI also said the proposed fee increases from 2024 will not come soon enough for planning departments scheduling staff cuts in 2023/24.

The British Property Federation (BFP) said the planning system has been “under-resourced” for a decade leading to “costly and unnecessary delays” to planning.

It said it supports the increase and said the extra income should be used to increase technical expertise in areas such as conservation, digital planning and energy performance.

Sam Bensted, assistant director for planning and development at BPF, said : “However, increasing planning fees will only create additional income for councils if we continue to see major projects brought forward.

“The recent changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, which are likely to mean less land is allocated for development and have led to some authorities to review their Local Plans, are likely to stymie activity at a time when developers are already facing cost pressures.

“We need to support all areas of the planning and development process if we want to encourage long-term investment and drive economic growth.”

AT-A-GLANCE: Planning fee increase consultation

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has consulted on proposals to: 

  •  increase planning fees by 35% for major applications and 25% for all other applications
  • additional fees for bespoke or ‘fast track’ services
  • make an annual inflation-related adjustment to planning fees
  • ring-fence additional fees income
  • double fees for retrospective applications
  • remove the ‘free-go’ for repeat applications
  • introduce a prior approval fee for the permitted development right allowing the Crown to develop sites within the perimeter of a closed defence site
  • build planning capacity and capability within local authorities, including challenges in recruitment and retention, and how these can be addressed
  • reduce the Planning Guarantee from 26 weeks to 16 weeks for non-major applications
  • improve the quality of the local authority planning service by monitoring more performance measures.