Property developers across Liverpool city region will have to pay up to 35% more to submit a planning application from December – but will it lead to an improvement in service levels? Tony McDonough reports
Developers will have to pay up to 35% more to submit a planning application from December.
All six local authorities in Liverpool city region will be subject to a Government directive from December 6 that will see the first rise in planning fees since 2018. Fees can run into tens of thousands of pounds for bigger schemes.
At that time councils could raise fees by 20% as long as they invested the money into their planning departments This time the fee will go up by 35% for residential developments of 10 homes and 20% for all other applications.
While the Government says it “expects the fee increase to result in increased investment in the planning service and lead to an improved service” councils aren’t compelled to do so by the directive.
This has led to concern in the industry that the move is just an exercise in raising extra revenue. The National Federation of Builders (NFB) quotes data from the Office of National Statistics.
This shows less than one fifth of councils are hitting the statutory target of approving a major application within 13 weeks compared with 56% in 2014. NFB housing and planning policy head Rico Wojtulewicz called for an Ofsted-style inspection system for councils.
He added: “We’re happy to pay as long as it’s a better service but there are no assurances that what we pay will lead to better outcomes. It’s revenue-raising off the back of businesses.”
Neil Carlyle, managing director of Caro Developments which has delivered a number of residential schemes in Liverpool, said he didn’t object to the rise if it went to pay for more planning officers.
He told LBN: “We deal with local authorities across the region and the picture is the same: they are under-resourced and over-stretched and the resultant bottle-neck is holding back economic growth at a time when it’s very much needed.
“If any increase was proportionate and authorities could guarantee that it would be ring-fenced to invest in more planning officers then I would welcome this, and know other developers would, too.
“There’s a mutuality to this situation being addressed properly: we want to invest, creating jobs and bringing physical improvement, whilst local authorities need the additional rateable income that comes from completed schemes.
“I think if each local authority could put forward a plan which shows how any increase in fees will be matched by more planning resources, that would be a constructive start.”
Another Liverpool developer, Hassett Homes, focuses on luxury developments across Merseyside. Head of land Ben Thompson told LBN it had discussed the issue with heads of planning at three North West local authorities.
“Our standpoint is clear: provided an authority can demonstrate that increased fees are invested entirely in enhanced planning resources to improve service and speed up delivery, then we’d be happy to pay more,” he added.
“We’d want complete reassurance that service levels will be guaranteed, but otherwise we’re comfortable with the principle.”
These latest changes to fees were announced in a directive to local authorities across the country sent by Joanna Averley, chief planner at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
She also said the new rules removed the fee exemption for repeat applications (the ‘free-go’). An applicant will still be able to benefit from a free-go if their application was withdrawn or refused.