HL Deb 18 May 1982 vol 430 cc659-66

7.22 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) (Scotland) Regulations, which were laid before your Lordships' House on 26th April this year, be approved. As I am sure your Lordships will be aware, these regulations were made under powers in Section 87 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. They amend the fees scheme which was introduced in April 1981. These regulations make for Scotland almost exactly the same changes as are made for England and Wales by the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) Regulations 1982, and these were approved by your Lordships' House as recently as last Friday, 14th May. Therefore, it might be for the convenience of your Lordships' House if I were first to refer briefly to the main changes made by these regulations which parallel the provisions of the England and Wales regulations, and then to draw attention to the few changes to the fees scheme which are peculiar to Scotland. The changes reflect experience of the operation of the fees system over the last year and they take account of representations which were received from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and also from the Scottish Society of Directors of Planning.

The regulations provide for an across the board increase of 10 per cent. in the levels of all fees with scale maxima going up by the same amount. This is a relatively modest increase which had the effect of keeping charges roughly constant in real terms. The detailed changes in the structure of the fees scheme are as follows. First of all, to overcome an anomaly whereby the fees category dealing with the subdivision of dwellings into flats has no upper limit, the amending regulations place the same upper limit on this category of fee as on the category dealing with the erection of dwellings. This category is also changed to ensure that the sub-division of warehouses and suchlike into flats is treated in the same way as the subdivision of dwellinghouses.

A second anomaly arises over the treatment of waste disposal applications. At present these attract a flat fee of £40. However, these applications which are often controversial can involve a substantial amount of work for planning authorities. The amending regulations recognise this by providing that such applications should be treated in the same way as those for the extraction of minerals.

Thirdly, the regulations tighten up the arrangements for charging for reserved matter applications, thus closing some loopholes. We are also extending the scope of the provision which allows a revised application within 12 months without a fee to cover cases where an appeal has been made to the Secretary of State under Section 34 of the 1972 Act, and also to cases where land has been added to the site covered by the earlier application in order to provide better access. The wording of the regulations is amended to ensure that these "free go" arrangements apply only when the correct fee was paid with the original application, and to make clear that an applicant can take advantage of the exemption only once in respect of any one site.

There are also two minor amendments to the present arrangements for the payment of fees for the deemed application which arises from an enforcement appeal to the Secretary of State. First, the regulations provide that where someone makes an enforcement appeal while waiting for the planning authority's decision on an application for the development which is enforced against, the enforcement appeal will be exempt from a fee. Secondly, where the Secretary of State dismisses an enforcement appeal in certain circumstances where procedural requirements are not carried out, that fee will be refunded.

I now turn to the points where there are material differences between the regulations as they apply to Scotland and the parallel regulations for England and Wales. At present the winning and working of peat is treated in the same way as the winning and working of any other mineral. However, because of the relatively low commercial value of peat and the fact that it occurs in shallow deposits, disproportionately high fees have to be charged. Therefore, we have decided that the fees for applications for peat working should be reduced to one-tenth of those payable for mineral applications generally. The amendment regulations provide accordingly.

Under the 1981 regulations applications for outline planning permission for all types of development attract a fee based on the area of the site. In cases where a single house is proposed for a large plot, this can result in a disproportionately high fee. Developments of this type are relatively common, particularly in the rural areas of Scotland, and we have therefore taking account of the representations which we have received from the Scottish Society of Directors of Planning, decided to provide in the new regulations a standard fee for outline planning applications for a single dwellinghouse irrespective of the size of the site.

Applications for consent to display advertisements attract, under the 1981 regulations, one of three fees depending on whether the advertisement is free-standing or whether it relates to the premises on which it is displayed or to premises in the neighbourhood of, but not visible from, the advertisement site. Representations have been made that this provision is unnecessarily complicated and that the different scales of fee do not reflect any difference in the work involved in processing applications. Therefore, the new regulations provide that all advertisement applications will be subject to a flat rate fee of £22.

Finally, I would mention one change to the England and Wales regulations which has not been made for Scotland. The England and Wales amendment regulations provide for special abated fees for agricultural buildings. But in Scotland agricultural development is subject to planning control only in limited and exceptional circumstances and planning applications are not generally required. There is therefore no need to make provision comparable to that which was included in the England and Wales regulations.

The Scottish regulations also contain some reorganisation and amendment of the schedule and minor drafting changes. But they do not make fundamental changes to the fees scheme. But it is the intention, both north and south of the Border, to look again at the scheme during the course of this year to see whether further and more fundamental changes are required. With that, I commend the regulations to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 26th April be approved.—(Lord Lyell).

7.30 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, we are indeed grateful, or should be grateful, to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for his very lucid explanation of these rather complex regulations. Admittedly, he was selective in respect of the ones on which he gave us some information, and I do not blame him for that—I should have done the same myself. But it is a great pity that we have these regulations at all.

This takes us back to that local government and planning Act in which this was put through to the surprise of many people. Local government and planning Acts are usually separate Acts, but, if I remember rightly, this was a United Kingdom Act; in other words, it dealt mainly with England and Wales and this bit about Scotland was included. Indeed, shortly afterwards, when people discovered what it was about, most of the letters that I received were not from supporters of the Labour Party. Indeed, I received very irate letters from the part of the country which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, knows very well and further south, that a Government which these people had supported should do this kind of thing and at the same time as proclaiming their desire to do everything they can to help small businesses get on with new buildings and all the rest of it, should subject these people to this kind of penalty. It is lovely to read.

I was touched by what the noble Lord said about peat: that it will cost only £22 for each hectare in Scotland, subject to a maximum of £330, rather than £22 for 0.1 of an acre elsewhere. Perhaps the noble Lord could tell me how much peat is taken out in England and Wales as compared with Scotland, and where in Scotland it is taken from. I do not think that it is the most generous gift to tell people that they have only to pay £22 for planning permission in respect of the taking of peat. I do not think that people will thank the noble Lord very much for the change that is being made.

Of course, another change was made when it was decided by the Government that people should pay for the administration of planning permissions, deemed planning permissions, appeals and all the rest. The Government say that that would be income to the local authorities in England and Wales as well as in Scotland. The Government made their usual calculations and said that if a person is receiving income from this, they would not pay the rate support grant to support the cost. I believe that in Scotland the rate support grant was reduced by about £2 million —probably just over. In fact, the most recent one was reduced by about £2.2 million. But we have not had figures to show whether the hopes of the Scottish Office in respect of the income from this unjustified burden on developers have been realised.

I read the debate in another place in respect of this and they said that in England they expected over £30 million—perhaps £38 million or £35 million—and they achieved only about £27 million. That is an unfair burden that has been placed upon local authorities in England and Wales, so their rates have gone up accordingly because the Government did not get their sums right, and so the reduction in the rate support grant did not measure up to the expected increase in income. What about Scotland? We do not know. They think that it will be about right. Their estimating is usually a little better in Scotland than in England—they have been well trained. But still we do not have the figures. It is just said—"We think it is about right". I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, realises this but not one Scottish Minister has opened his mouth on the subject so far. Here is the noble Lord's chance; he is the only Minister with a Scottish accent and a Scottish background to say anything about it. In another place it was dealt with by English Ministers; they even dealt with the Scottish matters.

But what was the cut made in Scotland and how has the income measured up to it? Was the income calculated as gross income or as net income?—because in order to carry out this new task that was placed upon local authorities, more people have to be employed. I believe that Glasgow employed at least about three more people and they had to make alterations in their offices because as they were dealing with money, the premises had to be a little more secure than they were before. Therefore, it is relevant that we should know in the calculations about the income whether it was net or gross income. We should like to know how it has turned out.

If it has turned out as badly in Scotland as it has in England and Wales, what is the reason for it? Was it just sheer miscalculation or was it reduced activity? They will say that they gave such warning that this was coming, that people raced in with their applications so that they could be dealt with and they would not have to pay anything for them at all. I do not quite accept that. I should like to know the effect of this. There should be more information available as to whether or not there is reduced activity here. We know that there has been—at least over the past year—as regards house-building in Scotland. Do not give us the bright new world that is coming, that more people are building houses now, because that is just not true. It is not just a question of building new houses, but of alterations. I love the way it is put in the schedule: The carrying out of operations (including the erection of a building) within the curtilage of an existing dwellinghouse, for the purposes ancillary to the enjoyment of the dwellinghouse as such …". To enjoy your dwellinghouse as such you have to spend more money. If you spend more money, the Government will ensure that they get their share. This does not apply to a new dwellinghouse; there is no VAT on that. But on all the materials in relation to the building of an extension to a dwellinghouse, VAT has to be paid. It now costs people as much to build an extension on their house as it cost them 10 years ago for the original house.

To add insult to injury, it costs £22 for the application for planning permission to build, not just an extension but a wall, a fence, the construction of gates or a garage. Scots are very hesitant about paying money for this kind of thing. I do not doubt that this is one of the reasons why there has been some slight fall in the volume of activity in respect of this. But those who are most opposed to this—and it does not matter how the income has come in or whether or not it is up to expectation—are those mainly involved in small businesses in towns and villages in Scotland who carry out the alterations, and so on. They are the people who are hurt by any further burden. It is an unjustified burden when you are doing something that is quite desirable.

All day we have been discussing the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill and have not received as much enlightenment and lucid explanation as we have from the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. That concerned a business where somebody wants to buy their way in to use the pipe-line belonging to the gas corporation. He makes representations to the Minister. Another department; not the Scottish Office. Does he pay anything for that? No. Despite the amount of work that has to be done as a result of his making representations, he does not pay a penny. But the people who live next door to me and who want to build an extension to their house—£44 for a new house, £22 purely for an extension. I do not think it is right. I do not think it is fair. I do not think that the income justifies the expense to the individual or the indirect expense to the local authorities. I suppose we shall have to pass it.

We have been exercising our minds at considerable length in this House and now in another place on the subject of advertisements and getting permission from the local authorities. For planning permission the Government boldly state that there will be a charge. It does not matter how many advertisements on the one area; I think it is £22. But when it came to civic government and the by-laws in respect of an advertisement there, the Government did not say how much they should pay to the local authority for that. Now why? Why not put in a sum? Or indeed for somebody applying for a licence for a taxi, there was no sum there. But here we are with the same subject, advertisements, where they leave it to the local authority to decide what the cost will be for that, and for the planning permission they say, "We will determine what it will be in respect of that".

The whole thing to my mind is a bit nonsensical. It says: The use of land for the disposal of refuse or waste materials. £22 for each 0.1 hectare". When you take it and balance the one against the other in respect of their qualitative considerations in respect of the environment, somebody improving their house and somebody getting planning permission for the use of land for the disposal of waste or waste materials, I do not think there is any justification for saying that the charge should be the same for the planning permission.

However, I am not going to divide the House. I am rather hungry, and I have to get back here to deal with the other Bill in about a quarter of an hour or so, or a bit more. I have important questions to ask about another Scottish Bill that is related to Clause 25. In the meantime, I am sure that I have not given the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, any questions he cannot answer, and I am perfectly sure that he is going to tell us how much better we are in estimating in Scotland as compared with the rather dilatory English.

7.44 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, at this hour in the evening I would certainly not delay any of your Lordships and least of all the noble Lord, Lord Ross, from taking advantage of the short dinner break. I, and I am sure the entire House, are grateful for the kind comments from the noble Lord, Lord Ross, and indeed for all the praise we received from him. I am grateful for his views as to my attempts to clarify this jungle of planning legislation. I should add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Ross, on the events of last Saturday. It was a particularly happy weekend both for him and for me.

I was particularly interested to note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, on his correspondence shortly after the passing of the 1980 Act. Maybe he is not alone in receiving such correspondence. Indeed, the matters raised no doubt in the noble Lord's correspondence that arrived at his house and indeed elsewhere were certainly debated at great length during the passage of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. All these matters of principle were argued out then, and I would not want to rehash or repeat any of the arguments again tonight.

No doubt the noble Lord and your Lordships are aware that Section 87 gave my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the neccessary enabling powers in this particular matter. We would only observe first that, where users of the development control system are going to place some burden or extra work on the local authorities, it is only right that they should make a small, modest contribution towards its not inconsiderable cost. Indeed, we believe that in view of the work that is carried out in all these matters the fees are at a modest level. Indeed, they are well short of the full processing costs, and we have no evidence that has been given to us that they act as a deterrent to development.

The noble Lord asked me an interesting question about peat. A number of proposals to develop peat on a commercial basis have come forward in the last year. The change in the fees which we propose was made in response to representations from such developers of peat who wished to undertake extraction works of peat. The noble Lord had one query about England and Wales and one rather more detailed query about the quantity, or extent, of peat works in Scotland. I am afraid I was not able to get the information in the brief moments that we have had to discuss the regulations. May I write to the noble Lord if I can obtain any detailed explanation on that?

As the noble Lord, Lord Ross, pointed out, England and Wales may well miss their targets in such matters. But, as the noble Lord should know himself, in the Scottish Office we rarely miss the targets. The noble Lord mentioned the sum of £2 million last year and we hope to be in the region of £2.2 million this year as a result of the mild increase in fees. We believe that we should come close to our target.

The noble Lord asked a question about gross or net income. I was at a slight loss, but I am given to understand that an estimate of income for the rate support grant was on what we would call a gross basis. I noted the details which the noble Lord raised. Indeed, they were of considerable interest to one or two honourable Members in another place. The noble Lord raised the £22 which was the proposed charge for what he called gates and walls, et cetera. In most circumstances, as he or indeed any other of your Lordships who carry out these minor alterations or, we hope, improvements to our houses will know, in most circumstances when we do this we find that a gate or a wall which is associated with a house would be what we call a permitted development and would not require a planning application. In such events we should find then that a fee would not be payable in that particular case.

The noble Lord mentioned that he believed there was a reduction of house building as a result of the introduction of these fees. If we can find any evidence of that in Scotland, then certainly I shall let him know, but we do not think that there is any definite and clear evidence of a great reduction of house building which can be directly applied to the raising of these fees.

The last point the noble Lord raised was when he took us back to the Civic Government Bill and mentioned taxis. I shall have to discover exactly what the noble Lord had in mind, but I wonder about such moving advertisements as one might find on taxis and motor cars or possibly on what we call sandwich persons—because we have to be equal and fair-handed as to the sex—but I shall endeavour to answer the noble Lord's point on movable advertisements.

We note what the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has had to say, and we are grateful for the kind remarks that he has made.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I beg to move that the House be now adjourned during pleasure until ten past eight.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.50 to 8.10 p.m.]