HL Deb 15 December 1994 vol 559 cc1374-5

3.49 p.m.

The Earl of Arran rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 16th November be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the regulations were laid before the House on 16th November and if approved by your Lordships' House and another place, where they still have to be considered, the amending regulations will come into effect on 3rd January 1995.

Since fees were introduced in 1981, they have covered an increasing proportion of local authorities' costs in determining planning applications. The Government originally intended that there should be a broadly uniform scale of fees throughout Great Britain but, for a number of years now, the level of fees in Scotland has been some 20 per cent. less than that applying in England and Wales. Past information on local authorities' costs of handling applications and income from fees appeared to justify that situation, but recent assessment of recovery rates in Scotland suggests that that is no longer the case. There is therefore no defensible reason for continuing to have different fee levels operating in a broader uniform system.

While amending regulations approved in 1993 gave effect to a 15 per cent. increase in planning fees generally, from 3rd January 1995 those regulations will provide for an across-the-board increase of 20 per cent. As last year, it is proposed that the up-rating should be achieved in two stages. Our main proposal is, therefore, an additional increase of 5 per cent. in the fee scales already approved to take effect from 3rd January 1995 and a further 15 per cent. from 3rd July 1995. The increases demonstrate our commitment to proceeding to full recovery of local authority costs and, taken together, should raise the average recovery rate in Scotland to 75 per cent. That will also have the effect of placing fees in Scotland on a par with those south of the Border.

Perhaps I may give your Lordships some indicative figures. The minimum fee for a factory or office development will rise from a planned level of £133 to £140 in January 1995 and to £160 in July 1995, while the maximum will rise from a planned level of £6,650 to £7,000 in January and, thereafter, to £8,000. An application to build a new house will attract a fee of £140 in January 1995, rising to£160 in July, with house alterations charged at 50 per cent. of those rates.

The Government consider that the increases strike a reasonable balance between progress towards 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.—and there is no evidence that they act as a deterrent to the business community's development proposals. The effect on householders seeking alternations to their homes is marginal.

The draft regulations also make two minor changes to the fees regime. The first is for the payment of a flat-rate fee of £25 rising to £30 where an application has to be made to a planning authority for its determination on whether prior approval will be required for proposals classed as permitted development in the General Permitted Development Order.

The second minor amendment introduces a flat-rate fee for the erection of agricultural-horticultural glasshouses. The Department of the Environment regulations already have such a fee but, under the Scottish regulations, fees for glasshouses are calculated on the basis of floor space, in the same way as those for other agricultural buildings. Although glasshouses can frequently cover large areas, there should not be a proportionate increase in the cost of processing such planning applications. Accordingly, it is proposed that similar treatment should be afforded to developments of that nature in Scotland. I commend the proposed changes to the regulations to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 16th November be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committed—(The Earl of Arran.)

Lord Aberdare

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the deemed applications happen to apply to those who are applying to be Earls of Arran?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I have to say that I believe my noble friend's question does not altogether relate to the regulations now before the House. However, I shall certainly give professional advice to my noble friend on the matter outside the Chamber.

On Question, Motion agreed to.