Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation



Tuesday 17 December 1996



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The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Ainger, Mr. Nick (Pembroke)

Banks, Mr. Matthew (Southport)

Barnes, Mr. Harry (North-East Derbyshire)

Bayley, Mr. Hugh (York)

Bruce, Mr. Ian (South Dorset)

Budgen, Mr. Nicholas (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Chisholm, Mr. Malcolm (Edinburgh, Leith)

Jones, Mr. Robert B. (Minister for Construction, Planning and Energy Efficiency)

Lait, Mrs. Jacqui (Hastings and Rye)

Mellor, Mr. David (Putney)

Miller, Mr. Andrew (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Porter, Mr. David (Waveney)

Rendel, Mr. David (Newbury)

Scott, Sir Nicholas (Chelsea)

Stern, Mr. Michael (Bristol, North-West)

Tracey, Mr. Richard (Surbiton)

Vaz, Mr. Keith (Leicester, East)

Watson, Mr. Mike (Glasgow, Central)

Williams, Mr. Alan W. (Carmarthen)

Mr. D. L. Natzler, Committee Clerk

3 Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation Tuesday 17 December 1996

[MR. MICHAEL LORD in the Chair]

Draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) Regulations 1997

10.30 am

The Minister for Construction, Planning and Energy Efficiency (Mr. Robert B. Jones): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) Regulations 1977.

The Chairman: With this, we may take the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Scotland) Regulations 1997.

Mr. Jones: Both sets of regulations were laid before the House on 2 December and were considered in another place on 12 December. Before I speak to the regulations, may I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Lord. We are both Bedford lads and I hope that we shall work well together and with the rest of the Committee. Both sets of regulations introduce new levels of fees and, if approved by the Committee, will come into effect in late January or early February of next year. As well as increasing fees, the Scottish regulations consolidate the 1990 regulations as subsequently amended. Planning fees are charged in accordance with the nature and size of the proposed development. Since they were introduced in 1981, they have represented an increasing proportion of local authorities' costs in determining planning applications. Our main proposal is a general increase of approximately 10 per cent. in fees on commencement, and a further increase of 5 per cent. from 1 October 1997. These increases show our continuing commitment to meeting our objective, announced in 1990, that fee levels should be increased over time until they reach a level where they fully cover local authorities' costs in processing and in determining planning applications. Taken together, the increases should realise the Government's target of full cost recovery. To propose two successive increases in one amendment is not a new proposition. Fees were increased in two stages in 1987 and again in 1995. The proposals will give local authorities a helpful degree of certainty about future income from planning application fees. The Government consider that the increases strike the right balance between full recovery and the likely impact on the construction industry. Fees remain a very small part of developers' overall costs—considerably less than 1 per cent. There is no evidence 4 that they act as a deterrent to development. Few householders pay a fee, as most minor domestic development does not require a planning application. I shall give some indicative figures. The minimum fee for a factory or office development would rise from £160 to £180 on implementation and £190 in October next year, while the maximum would rise from £8,000 now to £9,000 in early 1997 and £9,500 from next October. An application to build a new house would attract a fee of £180 in early 1997 and £190 in October. Substantial alterations to houses would be charged at £90 and £95 respectively. The Government believe that the users and potential beneficiaries of the development control system should meet the costs incurred in determining planning applications which would otherwise fail to be met by council tax and business ratepayers generally. Even after taking into account the increase in fees proposed in the regulations before the Committee, planning application fees continue to be modest and represent a very small proportion of developers' overall costs. I commend both sets of regulations to the Committee.

10.33 am

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Lord, in what I think will be only a brief appearance. I cannot claim to be Bedford lad like you and the Minister; as I have just turned 40, I do not qualify as a lad at all. However, I welcome this opportunity to discuss planning rules and regulations. We will not oppose the measures; it is important that local authorities should have the requisite fees to enable them to process applications. However, the Minister must take note of the anxieties that exist in local government and in the private sector about the delays inherent in our planning system. I do not hold the Minister responsible for that because they were there long before he became a Minister. It is essential that the Government should act swiftly to ensure that applications are dealt with and inspectors are appointed quickly to deal with planning inquiries. When people are asked to pay higher fees, the service that they receive should be much better. At present, hundreds, possibly thousands, of outstanding planning appeals are awaiting determination. If planning permission is refused today and an inquiry is applied for, it will be a year before an inspector is appointed. That is a long time. A delay in the writing of the inspector's report is also possible, as is the possibility of call in at the end of the process. Local authorities and the private sector need to secure a level of fees that represents the costs of the applications. However, in exchange, a better and more efficient service would be appreciated. The operation of the planning inspectorate is an important issue. It is necessary to ensure that resources are targeted so that local plans are adopted in all local authority areas. I know that a date has been set by which it is hoped that that will be achieved. However, the best way to ensure that the planning system is efficient and effective is to enable all local authorities 5 to adopt their plans as quickly as possible, so as to arrive at certainty about the way in which applications are made. All hon. Members have received letters from constituents about the planning system. We are unable to intervene, of course, because of the quasi-judicial nature of the planning system. All that our constituents want is a quick, efficient and effective system. If, in future, the Minister comes before the House, as his predecessors have done, with respect to similar regulations, to put up fees, people will not be reluctant to pay them provided that the system to which they relate is improved.

10.36 am

Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Lord. I will be brief. The fees cover the town and country planning system. Several local authorities must now act as statutory consultees in relation to other planning applications that are sent directly to a Ministry. I am thinking in particular of the arrangements under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, which covers new power stations or significant development to power stations. I am familiar with one such application that has, in effect, been running since 1991. A huge amount of officers' time has been spent on it. Are the relevant fees recoverable in some way, or would the maximum of just over £14,000 referred to in the draft regulations apply? Alternatively, perhaps there is no way to recover the fees, bearing in mind the fact that in the context to which I am referring, the local authorities are not the development or statutory planning authority, but merely statutory consultees.

10.38 am

Mr. Robert B. Jones: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) for the spirit in which he spoke. I agree with much of his analysis of the problem, although I must point out that he argued in favour of devoting the bulk of the inspectorate's resources to getting plans up and running. I understand that logic, but it brings us to a fundamental reason for delays in dealing with section 78 appeals. It is not really possible to deal with both sides other than by trying to bring about a balance. Inevitably, slowness will result, which is undesirable in principle, and which we are trying to deal with. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that we have issued a consultation paper and I hope to be able to present 6 other suggestions as to how the planning system, and particularly the appeals system, can be improved. I promise to keep the hon. Gentleman informed about what we suggest. Implicit in the hon. Gentleman's remarks—although I do not think that he intended the implication—was the idea that the appeal system should be funded by fees. Perhaps he did not mean to suggest fees for appeals, and our present discussion is about balancing the income and expenditure of the local authority administration of the planning system, not the issue relating to appeals—although that is, of course, something that people take into account in assessing the system's efficiency or effectiveness. We are trying to encourage best practice in local authorities, some of which are very good. I visited Horsham district council in Sussex a few months ago. It has a good computer system that enables it to register planning applications very quickly. I should like to encourage other local authorities to follow suit in that, as well as in the way that they deal with them after they have registered them. The final point concerns statutory consultees. These fees apply to deemed as well as full applications. If we had to impose charges that were payable to statutory consultees there would be a problem with serious cost implications. There are large numbers of statutory consultees on some applications, ranging from local parish councils through to the Environment Agency and many others, depending on the nature of the application. It could be for an historic building alongside a canal. I have a consultation paper out about British Waterways becoming a statutory consultee. It is not practical or desirable to go down that route, although I fully understand the significance of the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.

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 1997.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Scotland) Regulations 1997.—[Mr. Robert B. Jones.]

Committee rose at eighteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.



Lord, Mr. Michael (Chairman)

Ainger, Mr.

Banks, Mr. Matthew

Bruce, Mr. Ian

Jones, Mr. Robert B.

Lait, Mrs.

Porter, Mr.

Rendel, Mr.

Scott, Sir Nicholas.

Tracey, Mr.

Vaz, Mr.

Williams, Mr. Alan W.