Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.



Wednesday 1 July 1992


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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: MR. JAMES HILL

Baldry, Mr. Tony (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment)

Booth, Mr. Hartley (Finchley)

Brandreth, Mr. Gyles (City of Chester)

Channon, Mr. Paul (Southend, West)

Clarke, Mr. Tom (Monklands West)

Day, Mr. Stephen (Cheadle)

Fyfe, Maria (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Gallie, Mr. Phil (Ayr)

Graham, Mr. Thomas (Renfrew West and Inverclyde)

Hughes, Mr. Robert G. (Harrow West)

Jones, Mr. Nigel (Cheltenham)

McKelvey, Mr. William (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Maxton, Mr. John (Glasgow, Cathcart)

O'Brien, Mr. William (Normanton)

Robertson, Mr. Raymond S. (Aberdeen South)

Stewart, Mr. Allan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland)

Walker, Mr. Bill (Tayside, North)

Wray, Mr. Jimmy (Glasgow, Provan)

Mr. R. G. James, Committee Clerk

2 3 Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Wednesday 1 July 1992

[MR. JAMES HILL in the Chair]

Draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) Regulations 1992

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) Regulations 1992

The Chairman: With the agreement of the Committee, it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1992.

Mr. Baldry: The regulations would amend planning application fees payable to local planning authorities by would-be developers, owners or occupiers of land in three different and somewhat technical situations in England and Wales and two in Scotland. I hope that they will be endorsed by the Committee. It may be convenient for the Committee if I respond to hon. Members' specific queries.

10.31 am

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton): The Labour party does not oppose the proposed fee changes, but there are questions to be put to the Minister on the important issue that the regulations raise. They propose charges for applications for certificates of lawful use or development—what used to be called the established use of premises or land. Those who had the use of premises or land before April 1962 could apply for established use. Officers of the planning departments spent a great deal of time searching through historic planning applications, which raised the question of who should pay for that work. The regulations amend the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 on that point. What is the estimated average cost of the searches? That question has been raised several times. Planning application fees are reviewed each year to ensure that the fee covers 100 per cent. of the cost. The proposed fees are in line with existing fees, with the exception of the £20 referred to in paragraph 5. The manner of setting fees to cover the cost of the work is a dog's breakfast. If the principle is to recover the total cost, why does the Minister intend to introduce new fees half-way through the year? They will all be reviewed—I imagine—January 1993, when there will be further anomalies because additional workloads will have been placed on planning authorities. Community planning practice causes local authorities to incur extra costs in advertising and notification of planning applications that have been received. Where will that cost 4 of advertising and notification fall? We will never recover 100 per cent. of the cost of planning applications in fees by the Government's piecemeal approach. I received a letter from the former Under-Secretary of State with responsibility, for planning, the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo), which outlined how fees are decided. That response reinforces what I said earlier about the machinations of planning application fees being a dog's breakfast. How does the Minister arrive at the average cost, bearing in mind that the formula devised by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy is only a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule. When will there be a procedure that gives us a cost that realistically reflects the fees? In January, there will be an increase of a little more than inflation. However, following the regulations issued by the Department of the Environment, local authorities have to spend more, which means that they will never be able fully to recover their costs. Everyone in the Committe Room is aware of the present constraints upon local government finance which make it very difficult for local authorities to take on extra work, but the regulations leave them no alternative and that is hard on the other services that they provide. When the matter was raised on an earlier occasion, we were advised that a working party would be set up to investigate and report on costs for planning applications so that they could be more realistically reflected in the fees. That working party has not yet been established. What is the position on that? Those issues are relevant to the regulations. If the Minister will address those points it will help us when we consider the review of planning application fees in January 1993.

10.38 am

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): The Minister may find it helpful if I ask my questions before he answers those of my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien). The draft regulations for Scotland outline—the main changes of fees in respect of two types of application which are described in the explanatory note as being "for certificates of lawful use or development under sections 90 and 90A of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972" and "applications under Part 6 (agricultural buildings and operations) and Part 7 (forestry buildings and operations)". I have no expertise in the matter so I shall ask some basic questions. What is the reason for introducing those fees and what size will they be?

Mr. Baldry: I want to make it clear that the Committee is dealing with technical changes which are consequent upon legislative changes such as those brought about by the Planning and Compensation Act 1991. The draft regulations are concerned only with the application of the fees regime to certain specialised purposes. They are not concerned with the principle of charging for this local authority service which is firmly established in section 303 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Nor are they directly concerned with the fees payable to planning authorities for ordinary planning applications. I assure the Committee that there will be an opportunity later this year to discuss the wider application of the charging principle when we next propose an increase in the fees tariff. 5 The Department is considering what method a working party on fees should adopt and what its membership should be. We will be in touch with the local authority associations about that, but we have always intended that there should be full cost recovery of fees. The new certificate provisions referred to by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill, (Mrs. Fyfe)—a certificate of lawful use or development—will enable anyone who wishes to obtain an authoritative decision from the planning authority on whether a planning application is required for a proposed use or development, or whether an existing use or development is lawful, to submit an application to the authority for that purpose. If such a certificate is granted, it will be a more valuable document than any resulting from the two procedures that are to be replaced. It will provide evidence of immunity from enforcement notice action and will effectively mean that what is specified in the certificate is lawful for planning purposes. We see no reason why the local authority should not charge for part of the administrative cost of considering an application for one of the new certificates. That is consistent with our policy of charging for planning applications and with our ultimate aim of enabling planning authorities to recover their full administrative costs for dealing with such applications. Our proposed charges are intended to strike a reasonable balance between enabling planning authorities to offset some of the administrative cost of the service and not discouraging potential customers from using it. We are not yet able to provide an estimate of the average administrative costs, because the service and the certificate are new. Once the service starts, we shall attempt to cost it. We have determined the fees by taking an approximation related to planning applications, where the administrative cost is likely to be similar. I am sure that that approach will command the Committee's support. The hon. Member for Maryhill is perfectly fair to say that these are technical changes. Regulation 4(2)(b) of the draft Scottish regulations will introduce for Scotland a fee of £20 for applications for determinations where prior planning authority approval is needed for the erection, significant extension, or significant alteration of a farm or forestry building. The provisions are to have effect from 25 August 1992. They are similar to those already in effect in England and Wales. Section 13 of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 brought the demolition of buildings within planning control for the first time, but the draft Scottish regulations do not provide for demolition because the Scottish Office has consulted on the procedures that it would be most appropriate to adopt in Scotland and the responses to that consultation exercise are still being considered. Proposals for Scotland will be brought forward later in the year. We are this morning discussing the general principle that there should be full cost recovery. The nature and amount of the fees are based upon existing criteria. The regulations 6 are technical changes to bring the system up to date. As I have made plain to the Committee, there will be a review of planning application fees later this year, when we shall consult widely about the proper rates for fees.

Mr. William O'Brien: The technical changes to which the Minister refers arise from the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 which imposes fees identical to those that exist already. I thought that the Minister might have been able to answer my question about fees. The letter that I received in 1990, to which I have referred, also raised that question. I give the Minister notice that it will be raised again when we discuss the fees, in general, which will come into force in January 1993. I accept that the service to be provided will be new. The planning neighbourhood scheme, the advertising and other activities will, however, be a drain on the resources of local authorities and planning authorities. It is important, therefore, that we take into account the difference between costs in rural, urban and city areas when assessing the level of planning fees. I give the Minister notice that we shall raise that subject when we meet next. I referred to the working party, which the Government have agreed to establish with a view to achieving greater accuracy in the setting of planning application fees. The Minister has not yet mentioned that subject. Can he give us some information about it?

Mr. Baldry: I think that the record will show that we are considering what method the working party should adopt and what its membership should be. We shall consult local authority associations on its membership, methodology and approach.

Mr. O'Brien: Can the Minister tell us when the working party will be established?

Mr. Baldry: Later this year.

Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) Regulations 1992.


Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1992.—[Mr. Baldry.]

Committee rose at twelve minutes to Eleven o'clock.



Hill, Mr. James (Chairman)

Baldry, Mr.

Booth, Mr.

Brandreth, Mr.

Day, Mr.

Fyfe, Mrs.

Gallie, Mr.

Hughes, Mr. Robert G.

McKelvey, Mr.

O'Brien, Mr. William

Robertson, Mr. Raymond S.

Stewart, Mr.

Walker, Mr. Bill

Wray, Mr.