HL Deb 09 March 1981 vol 418 cc43-56

5.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 17th February be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) Regulations 1981 be approved. I should like to speak also to the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Scotland) Regulations 1981. The regulations have been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which has made no comment. The regulations introduce fees for planning applications under the enabling powers in Section 87 of the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980.

Let me begin by explaining our intention in introducing these regulations. Local authorities spend about £63 million a year in England and Wales on the administration of development control. Our aim is to reduce the net total of public expenditure by about £38 million in England and £2 million in Scotland by recovering that amount from fees to applicants. I would not argue with the view that development control represents a service to the community at large and not to the developer. But given that we have a planning system—and no one disputes that there should be such a system—the applicant stands to gain materially from acquiring a planning permission.

The costs of planning must be paid for in one way or another, and in the debate on the enabling power the House agreed with our view that it was fair for a proportion of that cost to be met by the applicant. The principle is settled and we are not taking a decision on that today. These regulations seek to put that principle into practice in a way which will be as fair as possible to all the many different varieties of application and applicant. The fees that we propose will apply to applications for planning permission, applications for outline planning permission—that is, "in principle" approval of a proposed development—and applications for the approval of "reserved matters" —that is, the detailed matters which the local planning authority can reserve for later decision in granting an outline planning permission.

In addition, fees will be payable on applications for consents to display advertisements, the deemed applications for planning permission which arise from enforcement appeals and the deemed applications arising from established use certificate appeals to the Secretary of State.

When the enabling powers were before Parliament we set out detailed proposals in a consultation paper, and we consulted very widely on the suggested scheme of fees set out in that paper. We received nearly 400 responses, which were supplemented by extensive debates in this House and in another place on the enabling section of the Act. Our consultation paper set out a suggested scale of fees together with a statement of our aims. These are: fees that do not deter any development; a uniform scale throughout England Wales and Scotland; a scale that is not difficult or expensive to administer; and a scale that relates the fee broadly to the scale of the development.

The regulations which we have put before the House set out to achieve those aims. In order to do so we have made a number of changes to our original proposals. The changes are a direct response to the comments we received and to the views expressed in this House and in another place.

First, your Lordships will be aware that the regulations do not include fees for planning appeals. We yielded to the arguments put forward by noble Lords on this point and accepted an amendment to the enabling powers to remove that provision in the course of consideration in this House.

Some of your Lordships may also recall that at the Report stage of the Bill I undertook that we would not seek to introduce fees for various types of application. In response to that the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, were able to withdraw their proposed amendment. My undertaking is reflected in these regulations. We are not charging for applications for determinations under Section 53 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 to determine whether planning permission is required; applications relating to listed building consents and to tree preservation orders; applications to demolish unlisted buildings in a conservation area; applications for approval to siting and design of agricultural buildings, under the Landscape Areas Special Development Order 1950; and applications for development which would be permitted by the GDO were it not for an Article 4 direction removing those rights. My undertaking to the noble Baroness, Lady David, is reflected in regultion 4, which exempts alterations and improvement to a disabled person's house to improve access, safety, health or comfort.

We have also responded to representations on behalf of a number of amateur sporting organisations, who were concerned that the cost of a fee for developing a sports field would be a strain on their resources. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 provides for a low flat fee of £40 for applications by non-profit-making organisations for playing fields. More generally, we looked at the whole scale from the point of view of ensuring that the fees were not excessive for any type of applicant.

In particular, this House expressed concern about the effect of the fees on the owner-occupier. In response to that concern, we have cut the fee proposed for householder applications from £30 to £20. These applications are usually for house extensions too big to benefit from the permitted development rights in the General Development Order. With the General Development (Amendment) Order 1981, which was laid on 27th February, we are extending these permitted development rights still further, so that, although there will be suitable safeguards, some 50,000 householder applications annually, and perhaps more, will become permitted development, and will thus not be subject to fees. The applications that remain will often be for substantial building works costing thousands of pounds.

I could not accept the argument that we should exempt the owner occupier altogether. Over half the total annual number of applications are householder applications. To exempt them altogether would heap an unfair share of the burden on the business sector. I hope your Lordships will agree with me that £20 is a reasonable fee for a house owner to pay. We have also had in mind that too high a "bottom step" on the scale of fees could deter some of the smaller works done in the commercial and industrial sectors. So we have provided that applications for building works not creating more than 40 square metres of floorspace should attract a fee of only £20. That applies also to developments that do not create floor-space, such as shopfronts.

We have also been concerned to protect the interests of the small businessman in setting fees for advertisement applications. We had set a low fee of £10 for applications concerned with signs on business premises intended to advertise the business. We have now added to that category the advance signs, away from the premises, directing the public to the business, on which so many small businesses, particularly in rural areas, depend. We have also sought to ensure that for larger developments, too, the fees were not unfair or discouraging to applicants. This reflects the fact that the fees are an offset to the cost of processing the application, and not a tax on the development. And the cost of processing does not rise indefinitely with the size of the development proposed.

First, we have put a top limit on every scale of fee. The maximum fee for an outline application is £1,000 (compared with our original proposal of £20,000). Detailed applications for buildings are subject to a maximum fee of £2,000 (compared with no maximum at all in our original proposals). Similarly, we have put a maximum of £3,000 on applications for the winning and working of minerals, and £200 on applica tions for other operations (compared with our original proposals of £20,000). The particularly low maximum for "other operations" illustrates the wide variety of development of this kind, some of which, as my noble friend Lord Gisborough pointed out at Report stage, may be of low value, despite occupying a large area of land. This will no doubt benefit some fairly major schemes: but that is a small price to pay to avoid discouraging a low value development in that same category.

My Lords, I should now like to turn briefly to the provisions covering "deemed applications" arising from enforcement appeals and established use certificate appeals. Our proposals for fees for planning applications raised some fears amongst noble Lords that developers might avoid fees—and planning control—altogether by carrying out unauthorised development. We have minimised that risk by keeping the level of fees at a very small proportion of the value of the development. But we have also closed the loophole—and, if I may, I will remind the House that noble Lords welcomed this when we amended the enabling legislation—by providing for a fee, on the same scale as for applications, in the case of the deemed planning applications which accompany enforcement appeals. The fee is paid when the appeal is made. If the appeal is upheld on legal grounds, we have provided for the fee to be refunded. We have also provided for refunds when appeals are withdrawn at an early stage. But where the Secretary of State does not uphold the appeal on legal grounds, and proceeds to consider whether planning permission ought to be granted, the fee is retained.

My Lords, may I conclude by saying that I do not expect any regulations which ask people to pay for something for which they have not paid before to be a popular measure. But there is no such thing as a "free service"—and to the extent that the applicant assumes a share of the costs of planning control, the taxpayer and ratepayer will be relieved of the cost. This House endorsed that principle in approving the enabling powers. In framing these regulations to put the principle into effect, we have been much influenced, as I hope I have demonstrated, by the views of noble Lords, and made many changes to accommodate the views of the various interests concerned. I appreciate that in matters such as this we cannot foresee all eventualities in the regulations, and I can assure the House that we shall keep the scheme under close review in its first year of operations. If changes prove to be necessary in the light of experience, we shall bring forward amending proposals. But I believe the regulations before the House are a fair and workable set of proposals. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 17th February be approved.—(Lord Bellwin.)

5.47 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, as the Minister no doubt remembers, we on these Benches resisted the proposals when the enabling legislation was introduced. He will also no doubt remember that we were joined by many of his noble friends. The community, as I think he has pointed out, is the primary beneficiary of planning control. In the Commons, when this matter came forward last week the Minister there said, on 3rd March at column 225: I am well aware of the argument that development control represents a service to the public and not to the developer. But once a system of planning controls is established, there is a good deal of benefit to be obtained from gaining a planning permission". The effect on the quality of the overall environment seems to me to be of outstanding importance when we are talking of planning permissions, and it is the service to the public and not to the developer that is the important thing.

The mechanism to deal with this problem is to have a betterment tax, just as we have the development tax on developed land which mops up the productivity created by development, and not by the use of charges for administrative work. This really has nothing to do with the financial benefits which accrue as a consequence of the artificial scarcity of land and buildings as a consequence of any planning permission.

The effect, I fear, of the planning fees and regulations that we are discussing today is that, in spite of what the Minister has just said on this point, we believe on this side of the House that it will encourage some people to avoid planning permission altogether. This is happening all the time now without planning fees, and it takes a considerable amount of time to catch up with them, and many in fact are not caught up with before the time has expired. This amount of unauthorised development, and its whole effect, can put the planning clock backwards when in many ways we have been ahead of so many other countries both in Europe and also in America.

Secondly, there are the substantial administrative costs. More unnecessary bureaucracy and more staff will be needed. It will bring planning into disrepute, and people will be even less happy if they have to pay and then do not get permission. It will introduce a sour note into the whole of the planning procedure. Because people will want to make sure of permission there will inevitably be many more informal consultations with local authorities, and these will take up the time of the planning staff.

Naturally we are pleased about the exemptions that have been incorporated, about which the Minister spoke, and I must at this point thank him for the clear and concise exposition he gave of the regulations. We are particularly pleased about those which resulted from amendments moved by noble Lords on these Benches. The scheme may be workable but it will be at a very high financial and social cost. There are many aspects of the regulations which deeply concern me and I should be grateful if, when he replies, the Minister would answer some of the questions I have for him.

First, the proposals set out in the draft Statutory Instrument will not in practice be easy to implement. The basic scale in Part II of Schedule I is relatively straightforward although there will be many cases in practice where people will come to planning offices with their applications not knowing what the appropriate fee is and expecting planning officers to do detailed measurements to determine the appropriate fee. In the main body of the order there is a whole series of omissions and qualifications which in themselves may be reasonable but which will require local authorities to employ qualified planning rather than administrative staff.

If more time is to be spent as a result of charging fees and more staff are not to be employed, decisions on planning applications and work on appeals will take longer. I recall clearly during my time as a Minister at the Department of the Environment how we were trying hard to reduce the delays in giving planning permissions. This has always been a tremendous problem and I fear that these provisions will move it the other way, so to speak. Indeed, in the 6th March issue of the periodical Planning it was stated: From 1st April, local authorities will find it more difficult to determine planning applications within eight weeks. That is the conclusion from a straw poll of planning authorities on the implications of the introduction of planning charges and new amendments to the general development order". Having spoken to various planning departments and officers, the writer of the article takes issue with the department over the effect that the GDO amendments will have, the effect of the savings and the whole question of staff. Will the Minister explain how local authorities will cope with an increased demand when the reduction in the workload, as a result of the relaxation of the general development orders, will be relatively marginal?

Since the consultation paper last year, certain significant changes have been made to the level of fees, as the Minister pointed out. The most important is that maximum figures have been introduced in some categories and drastically reduced in others. I know the Government believe they underestimated the income they would receive, so that these concessions can be afforded without reducing the overall yield. However, these modifications are all to the benefit of major developers. With the exception of the reduction in the fee for householders, which was advocated among others by the AMA, it will be major developments of over 50 houses, or more than 15 hectares in the case, for instance, of mineral workings, which will benefit. The consequence of these reductions, which apply both at the top and bottom of the system, will be that small businesses and small developments will pay a disproportionately larger fee in relation to the scale and value of the development proposed. For example, a large building organisation could put in an outline application for an estate of, say, 200 dwellings valued at at least £6 million and pay at the most £1,000. A small builder could put in an outline application for 12 dwellings on a 2.5 hectare site and have to pay the same fee. If there are to be fees, these maximum figures seem far too low.

As major planning applications can involve local authorities in much work and expense, may I ask the Minister to explain why the Government have adopted the specific maximum charges set out in the schedule, and may we be told how these quite extraordinary changes came about? Why, for example, has the original £20,000 suddenly been reduced to £1,000? If the Government found they were getting in as much money as they expected, if not more, from their projected plan, why not bring down the overall rate rather than reduce the ceiling? In other words, my questions are aimed at saying that, although in principle we strongly disagree with what is being done, if the Government insist on doing it they should at least do it logically and indicate the process of thought that motivates the whole scheme.

Thirdly, one specific omission from the regulations is the charging for applications for the disposal of waste. These applications are often substantial and highly contentious, but they will be charged under a miscellaneous category with a maximum fee of £200. It is understandable that the Government do not wish to introduce too many categories, but such applications are important areas for county councils and, given the amount of work involved, the fees proposed seem wholly inappropriate. Again, both the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities have expressed concern on the point. I should like to know why, if the Government insist on charging fees, they have not chosen to ignore waste disposal; and, as I understand it, the matter is not even mentioned in the circular.

Fourthly, applications for the change of use of land or buildings can cover very substantial areas or sizeable buildings and a flat-rate £40 fee does not reflect this diversity. It has been advocated that there should be a scale of fees and I should like to know why the Government have not chosen to operate a scale of fees for change of use.

Fifthly, the Government announced in this House during the passage of the Local Government Act that they would not be proceeding with charging for appeals, which I applaud. However, there are charges for applications which are deemed to have been made following enforcement action by local authorities. It seems odd that the Secretary of State, rather than the local authorities, should collect the fees which are levied, despite the fact that the local authorities will have done a substantial amount of work in carrying out enforcement action. In other words, if anybody is going to get the "dough" for this, it should be the local authority rather than the Secretary of State.

Even odder still is the fact that the fees levied will be the standard fee for such a development had an application been made in the first place. Again, the AMA has advocated that a penal rate should be levied and has suggested that it might be three times the normal rate that would have been charged. If no penalty is involved, there may be an added incentive to avoid planning controls and planning fees because the consequences of being found out are insubstantial. Again, therefore, I ask the Minister—if the Government are hellbent on these fees—why on earth there are no penalties for attempting to evade them. In other words, the good boys will cop out and the bad ones will not be penalised at all.

The Government have publicly and frequently proclaimed that they wish to speed up the procedures for deciding planning applications, and I agree with that absolutely. I fail to see how that can be squared, however, with the proposals set out in Schedule 1(2), which provides that someone submitting two applications for the same site at more or less the same time and relating to the same development or reserved matters will be charged at only 25 per cent. of the normal rate for the second application. Two applications mean two sets of files and two sets of administrative procedures. This, however, is a relatively trivial point compared with the underlying logic of the provision. I know it has long been advocated by the Housebuilders' Federation that their members should put in two applications. Once the eight week period for determination has been reached, they suggest that one of those applications should be taken to appeal while the other continues to be the subject of negotiation with the local authority. The latest planning statistics released by the DOE indicate that 39 per cent. of applications take eight weeks or more to be determined, which represents a total of 49,920 applications, close on 50,000 applications.

Were all those to be taken to appeal, even though many of them might have been determined anyway within a relatively short period, then the appeals machinery could become clogged up. I am not suggesting that that approach would always be followed by applicants, for whom even an additional 25 per cent. may be a major disincentive. However, it seems to me that by putting the provision in a statutory instrument, the Government are in fact inciting people to abuse the planning system by submitting unnecessary appeals which would require a substantial amount of work on the part of local authorities and the DOE. That is work which would prove abortive in most cases when a decision is given by the local authority and the appeal therefore withdrawn. I should like to know how the Government can justify that abuse of the planning appeals system when they are really trying to cut down the delay.

Local authorities have experienced very many problems in implementing the system of fees for building regulations applications and inspections. It is true that local authorities feel that that is less likely to be the case with the planning fees regulations, which are more tightly drafted, but there are many aspects of these regulations, in particular the matter of their yield for individual authorities, which will have to be considered. There are also many aspects of the regulations that are written in language which is not sufficiently precise and where experience will be necessary in order to determine whether changes are needed.

I am sure that the Minister saw a letter in today's Times, the signatories of which were representatives of the Royal Town Planning Institute, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Confederation of British Industry, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Law Society, the House Builders' Federation, the National Federation of Building Employers, and the National Farmers' Union. I am sure that many noble Lords will have read the letter, and I do not propose to weary the House by reading the whole of it. But the signatories say that, The scheme is unlikely to be cost-effective and will have only marginal relevance to local government finance. The assessment and collection of fees will make additional demands on staff at a time when the Secretary of State is encouraging local authorities to make more productive use of manpower, will divert professional resources from their role of facilitating development, and will add to the time taken to process applications". That seems to me a very damning condemnation of what the Government are doing.

It is unfortunate that we cannot in any way amend the order. That was the point of the complaint that we raised when we were given so little information in discussing the primary legislation on planning fees in the Local Government Act. The Government failed to produce their detailed proposals on planning fees at that time. I understand that local authorities are relying on the income from the fees because the overall rate support grant has already been reduced by £38 million to cover them. Were they not to receive this income, they would be in an even more difficult position than that in which they have already been placed by the Government.

It would be inappropriate to divide the House on the regulations because they have been agreed in another place, despite strong criticism from both sides. However, I have attempted briefly to subject the regulations to some form of critical scrutiny, and I hope that the position will be monitored as the regulations are reviewed.

There is one more point about which I forgot to ask the Minister. If an application is not accompanied by a fee, or if the accompanying fee is not correct, or if a cheque bounces, the local authority should be able to return the application indicating that it will be considered when the correct fee is attached. However, I understand that at the moment that is not possible and that local authorities will simply have to sit on the application until the right fee is submitted. It seems to me that whichever way one looks at the matter, even from the viewpoint of those people who support the regulations and the principle behind them, some very serious monitoring must be undertaken, in regard to the regulations. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that a very careful review will be undertaken regarding the progress and the working of the regulations. I hope, too, that after the regulations have run for some time—perhaps a year—we shall have an opportunity to look at them again and see whether or not many of the fears that a number of us have about how the regulations will work out have proved to be justified.

6.5 p.m.

Lord Greenwood of Rossendale

My Lords, I should like to join my noble friend in thanking the Minister for the extent to which he has sought to implement the undertakings that he gave during the passing of the Act. This evening I feel very much like the signatories to the letter in The Times to which my noble friend referred. I have a number of misgivings about the regulations, but as my noble friend has said—and as the signatories to the letter clearly did not understand—we have no power to amend them, and it would be quite wrong for us to seek to reject something which had the approval of the House of Commons. However all of us must be grateful for the repeated assurances that there will be a constant review of the way that the regulations work, and I am strengthened in the philosophical attitude that I hope I am adopting by the fact that I believe that five years from now the regulations will not still be with us.

There is one point that I should like to put to the noble Lord. It concerns the references that the Under-Secretary of State made in another place when the regulations were discussed on 3rd March. At that time he gave the impression that the Association of Metropolitan Authorities had actually approved the regulations. My understanding—and this is perhaps not a very wide difference between us—is that, although the association had accepted the principles of the regulations, it had not in fact approved the detailed regulations which are before your Lordships' House tonight. I know only too well how easy it is at the Dispatch Box not always to use exactly the words appropriate to the situation, and I am not for one moment suggesting that Mr. Shaw misled another place. But it would be helpful tonight if the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, could put this point right and perhaps correct any wrong impression that his colleague may have created.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his speech and for the alterations that he has managed to make in the regulations that we are discussing. I speak from the standpoint of having been in local government for 29 years and having for a long time served on a planning authority. I know that in addressing my questions to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, I am speaking to someone who has had the same kind of experience as I have had in local government. I agree with much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said. She put the criticisms very fairly, and they come from the kind of authorities that have been in touch with me.

I think the noble Lord underestimates the cost of administering the scheme. It is an extremely complicated matter. Part II of the regulations, relating to the scale of fees and the way in which they are to be assessed, is very complicated indeed. The local authority will have to add to its staff in order to be able to monitor the scheme. I think that the operating of the scheme will mean many additional problems for planning departments. There are so many different aspects referred to in Part II of the regulations relating to the scale of fees that it will be necessary for officials to inspect all the planning applications, and that will add considerably to the cost, as will the complications of the scheme.

Schedule 2 refers to advertisements on the spot and in such cases there will be a fee of, I think, £10. Another point in Schedule 2 relates to instances where advertisements are not within sight of the building or shop concerned; for example, in country districts. The premises could be quite some distance away and that would mean that a planning official would have to make a journey to see whether or not an advertisement was correct, and could be approved. Again, that is going to add to the difficulties by way of staff—at least according to my reading of it. I do not quite understand why there must be two kinds of fee and why we bring in advertising where you cannot see the site. In a country district it might be quite a long way away; it might be several miles away from the original building, shop or industrial centre which is being advertised.

Then it says in paragraph 3 that all other advertisements are going to cost £40. What does this mean? What other kinds of advertisements are going to cost £40? I should also like to add that all that I have said up to now has related to urban areas and to complaints that I had only last weekend, when I went back home and was bombarded on the telephone by present members of the local authority which is rural and of which I was a member for so many years. They are all extremely worried about this order and think it will not be helpful but will be costly. My noble friend says it is going to bring in a lot of money. It is also going to mean a lot of money being paid out, and I cannot help thinking that that is a mistake.

Then, on the subject of the National Farmers' Union and the agricultural situation, it is known to everybody —it has been publicised in every newspaper, not only the farming papers—that agriculture in this country at the present moment is in very low water, and that any development which might increase the efficiency of our agricultural industry is going to be subject to additional charges. I think that instead of helping the agricultural industry and other small industries it will have the reverse effect, because they are going to have to pay the fees, and, although they do not sound very big, if you add up all that is put into this schedule that I have in my hand here, it amounts to quite a large sum of money which people are going to have to pay. My experience in the past is that it is difficult enough to get people to apply for planning permission under existing circumstances, and we all know that an awful lot of people get away with doing things without getting planning permission. Sometimes they get caught and are fined or are made to return the site to what it was before they did the work, but that is a difficult thing to do.

I am afraid I think that these regulations are going to lead to more difficulties, more evasion and more cost. I realise—everybody has said so, and I know that it is so—that we in this House cannot amend these regulations, but I would beg the Minister to realise that this is a very unpopular measure. Although he cannot alter it and although he has done his best to make it less disagreeable, it is in fact very unpopular indeed, and I would hope that, as the noble Baroness has said, we might look at this again in a year's time, or at some time, because I have a horrid feeling that it is not going to work out as the Government believe it will. I think it is not going to help anybody, and that it will be far more costly than the Government think.

6.14 p.m.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I shall try to cover some of the points made by my noble friend Lady Elliot and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, but perhaps they will allow me to begin with a reference (because it is the shortest point made that requires comment) to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood. Yes, I entirely take his point. I would only say that if my honourable friend in another place did misunderstand the AMA's position then I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, for setting the record straight. As he says, it is certainly a possibility. Of course, I am grateful for the support of the AMA for at least the principle of the fees, and their approval is indeed another matter. So far as I am concerned I think I am pretty clear as to exactly where they stand in the matter, but it is good that we should get the record straight and I gladly thank the noble Lord for that.

My Lords, if the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will allow me (in reverse order, as I think they say these days) to respond to my noble friend Lady Elliot, she said that the scheme would add greatly to local authority staff, and, indeed, so, I think, did the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. So, instead of going over the point twice, perhaps I may say that I do not believe that that is necessarily so at all. I will tell your Lordships why I cannot accept that the scheme will cause a substantial increase. Of course its administration will require a certain amount of staff time, and we have made an allowance of £2 million for that in estimating the yield from fees; but the scheme is not unduly complex, nor will local authorities be required to pore over each application in detail to check the fees. In most cases all that will be required is a quick check; and it should be remembered that more than half of all the applications, for example, will be paying a flat rate fee of £20.

I accept that the introduction of the scheme will make some demands on staff time while local authorities and applicants familiarise themselves with the new procedure. But we are introducing fees in the context of other measures which will in fact save staff. The GDO amendments alone will reduce the number of applications, as I said in my introductory remarks. No one knows by exactly how many it will be, but some 50,000, possibly more, I am assured, is a reasonable assumption to make. The Local Government, Planning and Land Act will cut out considerably the duplication of the work between the counties and the districts—and I speak with much experience of what that means. I think that, all in all, it is perhaps swings and roundabouts to some extent, but in practice, as to the concern about what it will mean by way of additional staff, in the context of all planning staff it will not be anything like the problem that my noble friend and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, fear.

My noble friend was very anxious on the subject of charges and agriculture—

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I was waiting until he had finally left the point about more staff. If there are not going to be more staff, the point I raised on that was: how then is he going to avoid increased delays? Because I think they are alternatives. As the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, also said, there is obviously going to be more work, so if there is not going to be more staff would the noble Lord not agree that the chances of more extensive delays must be there?

Lord Bellwin

No, I do not agree, my Lords, and, if the noble Baroness will allow me, when I come to her points I shall try to develop the reasons why. As to the charge on agriculture, which is a very important matter of concern to many, I know, I would say that most agricultural developments will in fact be exempt from charges by virtue of the GDO permission. Those developments for which a planning application is necessary will usually, first, be very large, over 465 square metres, in which case the charge will be marginal to the cost of what must be a very expensive and sub-stantial development; or, secondly, will give rise to difficult planning issues—for example, those relating to intensive livestock units—or, thirdly, will be unconnected with farming activities on the land. In all these circumstances it seems reasonable to make a charge; but I undertake to consider any difficulties which may arise in practice, and to take them into account in any review of this scheme.

As to the other points that my noble friend made, she said that the proposals were unpopular. I cannot remember in my limited experience listening to any scheme where quite so many changes have been made based upon the representations that we have received and the very careful thought that we have given to them in a genuine attempt to meet the concerns that have been expressed. The £20 figure, as against £30, I think is significant because that is anticipated to take in half of all the approximately half a million applications that come in in a year. No one likes any charge where there was none before, but time will tell.

I come to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. I have brought with me the proceedings of your Lordships' House in 1977 when she argued so eloquently for the GDO to be extended. I read it with much interest and would only say to her that everything that she then said about it applies today. We have brought in certain safeguards which I think have made it much more acceptable. Unless she wishes, I shall not quote verbatim what she said; but one of the basic arguments was that the GDO would take out of planning the need for people to make applications. It really would make a considerable difference and would make good sense.

When the noble Baroness says that this order will encourage people to avoid planning permission, the first factor I would use against her is the extension of the GDO. The second is that, for the reason I have given, I do not believe that the £20 is going to cause any great dramas. Fears were expressed when we were discussing the whole enabling provision as part of the primary legislation about the ceiling we would propose. I know that at least one of my noble friends who then argued very strongly against the proposals now feels, while still not in favour, much more relaxed about it because of the ceilings that we have imposed.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, so that there is no misunderstanding, the noble Lord is quite right. I argued in favour and I remember it well. I am still in favour, and I have said so, of the extension of the GDO. I said that I thanked the Minister for that and also for the points he had taken on board from the amendments moved by my colleagues. But, I was not arguing for planning fees at the same time. What we are talking about today is the planning fees.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, we will await the planning fees; but the fact is that when the noble Baroness talks about these proposals encouraging people to avoid planning permission I am fully entitled to quote the fact that the extension of the GDO is a fundamental part of a total package and that what we are proposing is the whole of the planning scheme. It was so argued in the Act, as I am sure she well remembers.

The noble Baroness referred to the charges for deemed applications. I would say that these are accepted in principle on all sides. It is logical that the Secretary of State should retain the fee because it is his department (and the Welsh Office, for Wales) which bears the major share of determining the deemed applications. Surely it is logical for the deemed application fee to be the same as the planning fee because the same development is involved. A fee at a penal rate would be unacceptable because it would be bound to deter the making of an appeal, which is the only way of challenging an enforcement notice.

The noble Baroness asked why waste disposal was not charged more. Well, waste disposal may cover a considerable area yet be a development of low value. Without a top limit there is a risk of deterring people from going through the proper planning procedure. Furthermore, a separate category would add to complexity. We shall monitor the working of the fees in operation and, if additional categories prove to be desirable, we shall be prepared to introduce them should the benefits outweigh the cost of the extra complexities. The noble Baroness asked why the maxima were reduced. We chose to reduce the maxima first of all because we were impressed by the arguments that were put to us and, secondly, because we believe that the bigger the fee the greater is the risk of injustice and of deterring development. Many of my noble friends spoke at some length on that aspect and we took careful note of what they said. I feel sure that I have not covered all the points that the noble Baroness raised. If she would like me to go on doing so, I would have another shot at it; but I am not sure that that would be in the interests of making progress in this House.

The general tenor of the reception from the noble Baroness, from my noble friend Lady Elliot, and from the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, seems to be one not so much of approval as of, "We want to see how it works ". I have given the assurance that we intend to monitor and, if necessary, in 12 months' time we shall review how the scheme has worked. In the context of what we are trying to do overall through this whole speeding up of planning and getting at least something back towards the £63 million that it all cost, I think that this is a fair set of regulations to achieve it. I acknowledge that time alone will tell; but, yes, let us look at it again. I hope that I have covered at least the main points which noble Lords have raised.

On Question, Motion agreed to.