HL Deb 16 November 1992 vol 540 cc485-7

5.10 p.m.

Viscount Goschen rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 28th October be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 1992 be approved. The regulations were laid before the House on 28th October 1992. I understand that it will be convenient to consider at the same time the equivalent Scottish regulations, which were laid on 27th October. I shall speak to both regulations.

The regulations, which have been considered in another place, introduce several changes to the "parent" regulations for England and Wales approved by Parliament in 1989 and for Scotland in 1990. If approved by this House, the amending regulations will come into effect on 4th January 1993.

The main change introduced is a general increase of 10 per cent. in the level of fees charged for planning applications. Since they were introduced in 1981, fees have represented a contribution by the applicant to the costs which local authorities incur in processing and determining applications. Applicants are charged according to the nature of the proposed development and to its size.

The Government are committed to progressive increases in fees in order to achieve their objective, announced in July 1990, that nationally fees should meet in full local authorities' costs of processing planning applications. In January in each of the last two years, fees have been increased by 20 per cent. towards that goal. The time is now ripe for a more modest increase.

We appreciate that a general increase of 10 per cent. in fees may be less than some planning authorities would have wished. The increase remains, however, substantial and higher than the rate of inflation. The Government believe that their proposals strike the right balance between the need to continue progress towards their target of full recovery, while having regard to the impact further increases will have on the construction industry. For developers, fees remain a very small part of their overall costs, considerably less than 1 per cent. And as most kinds of minor domestic development do not require a planning application, very few householders pay any fee at all.

Let me give some indicative figures. An application to alter substantially an existing dwelling house would be charged at £60; to build a new dwelling house would attract a fee of £120. The maximum fee for a factory or office development would rise from £5,520 to £6,000; an application to win or work minerals from £8,280 to £9,000. Slightly lower fee levels will apply in Scotland.

When announcing, in February of this year, new procedures requiring some form of publicity for all planning applications, the Government undertook that the extra costs of that requirement would be taken into account in the next review of planning fees. Most local planning authorities were already carrying out some form of publicity before the new requirements came into effect on 17th July. Available evidence suggests that the extra expenditure is relatively small. Nevertheless, an allowance for this has been made in proposing the 10 per cent. increase.

The draft regulations also make three minor changes to the fees regime. The purpose of the first change, the only one to apply also to Scotland, is to rectify an anomaly. Certain types of "permitted development" which do not require express planning permission, a general permission having been granted under the general development order, nevertheless require the approval by a local planning authority of certain details before proceeding. One such is agricultural buildings, where the floor space created does not exceed 465 square metres. The fee for such determinations is currently £20. But there is a nil fee for agricultural developments of a similar size requiring planning application. To resolve this anomaly the regulations will introduce the same fee, £22, for both planning applications and determinations.

The second of these minor changes is consequential. An amendment to the General Development Order, introduced by a statutory instrument due to take effect on 4th January, extends the scope of permitted development to include particular types of radio mast, radio equipment housing and public call boxes. That amendment also requires operators to seek the prior approval of a local planning authority before installing such equipment. As with other such prior determinations, a fee of £22 will be payable.

The third minor change introduces a flat-rate fee for applications to extend the duration of an unimplemented planning permission which has not yet lapsed. That replaces the current arrangement, which charges the full amount for the particular category of development. This change rectifies an inconsistency.

Applications may be made, under Section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, for relief from a condition imposed on a planning permission. This provision includes application to vary or revoke a condition requiring development to begin within a specified time (generally five years). A flat-rate fee, currently £55, applies to such applications.

However, there is no equivalent provision for similar applications; namely, those made under Sections 91 or 92 of the 1990 Act for the renewal of unimplemented planning permissions which would otherwise lapse after the statutory period, normally five years. As a result, the full fee, as for the original planning application, is payable. This inconsistency has led to disputes between applicants and local planning authorities in a number of cases.

In a consultation paper issued in July last year, the Government proposed that a flat-rate fee should be charged for all renewals. This proposal was broadly welcomed as eliminating a troublesome inconsistency, although local planning authorities were concerned that some applications for renewal needed to be considered afresh. I accept this argument, but we do not believe that the few cases that do need to be looked at anew justify all such applications attracting a further full fee. It is therefore proposed that a flat-rate fee of £60 be payable.

The Government believe that users and potential beneficiaries of the development control system should meet the costs incurred in determining planning applications, which would otherwise fall to be met by charge payers and business-rate payers generally. Even after taking into account the increase in fees proposed in the amending regulations now before the House, planning applications fees continue to be modest, and a very small proportion of developers' overall costs. We also believe that the other proposed amendments to the fees regime are fully justified. I commend the regulations to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 28th October be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Viscount Goschen.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we thank the noble Viscount for introducing these regulations. As the Government are aware we have supported increases in fees proposed in the past and we see no objection to them at the present time. As the noble Viscount rightly said, the regulations do not fully meet the desire of local planning authorities to have all their costs in determining planning applications met by fees but they continue to go some way toward it.

The major change to which he referred is the change under Parts 6, 7, 24 and 31 of Schedule 2 to the General Development Order which applies in particular to agricultural buildings. If the noble Viscount had followed the proceedings of the Planning and Compensation Bill, which took place before he had responsibility for these matters, he would know that we also supported the extension of planning controls over agricultural buildings. It seems right to us that the anomaly to which he has drawn attention should be corrected by this new provision. In general we support the two sets of regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.