These were considered in the previous reports. The 2008/9 budget assumes a whole year income of £120,000 as a result of charging. The Council has agreed to support additional staff resource to ensure the integrity of a pre-application service subject to the income generated.
1. The report to the Executive on 10th July 2007 agreed a supplementary estimate up to £52,000 to initiate the improvements of the service in 2007/08. However, the service improvements would not commence until half way through 2008/09. The previous report proposed 2.5 new planning officer positions within the Major Sites team at a cost of £62,000 to facilitate Principal Officers to take a “consultant role” in dedicating a greater proportion of their workload towards pre-application advice.
2. The successful operation of the scheme will require the provision of the additional resource of:
· Provision of a designated meeting space in planning reception to operate planning surgery and for holding meetings to ensure confidentiality.
· Provision of a designated computer terminal for planning surgery use
· Provision of a credit / debit card facility at planning reception for taking payments
1.1 The Executive resolved in July 2007 that:
1. charging for planning services should be introduced in principle;
2. officers be instructed to work up in detail a charging scheme including pre-application protocols, standards and systems and it be considered at a future meeting of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee;
3. the detailed scheme be subject to a consultation exercise with customers;
4. officers introduce the charging scheme in liaison with the portfolio holder for planning as soon as practical; and
5. should any significant budget implications arise from the consultation process, officers should refer those matters to the Executive.
1.2 This report sets out proposals arising from the Executive’s resolution in paragraphs 2 and 3 above.
1.3 A copy of the original report to the Executive is attached at Annexe 1 as background information.
1.4 The provision of clear, confident and robust pre-application advice can significantly add value to the planning process and help to inform and improve the level and quality of development on the ground. However the provision of such a service is time consuming and can involve a number of officers in meetings, site visits, research and writing up advice. It is appropriate that the Council recover the cost of this work, which is often extensive, and the power to recover costs is provided for under the Local Government Act 2003.
1.5 In considering the charges to be levied, officers have worked with a number of planning agents, including the two companies that submit the most applications to the Council. Both the range of charges that could be levied and the options of fixed rates and hourly rates have been explored. This work in your officers’ view has met the requirements for a consultation exercise with potential customers as agreed by the Executive.
1.6 Evidence from the private sector is that applicants and agents are willing to pay for pre-application advice. The agents’ response has generally been supportive, provided that there is perceived to be value for money in the service that is provided. Essentially applicants and agents may be willing to pay for advice, provided that they have access to council officers at the appropriate level to ensure that a considered, robust and balanced response is provided. They are also keen to receive a timely response, reflecting a more corporate view.
1.7 From the department’s perspective, there is clearly a need for developers to present proposals at the pre-application stage that are sufficiently detailed to allow meaningful discussions of the planning issues to take place, although it is anticipated that some agents will wish to talk about general concepts. Consequently it is suggested that a pre-requisite standard form drawn up to ensure that proposals, particularly those sent-in, in writing, are sufficiently detailed to enable meaningful discussion and advice.
1.8 Agents also favoured a simple flat rate charging scheme so that it was easily understood. Officers also favour this in terms of ease of operating the system. As a consequence the proposed charges have remained as a fixed rate scheme.
2. Advantages of Pre-Application Discussions
2.1 The advantages of the scheme are considered to be:
- Provides early guidance to the applicant as to how the application will be judged against Development Plan policies and other material considerations, and hence a greater degree of certainty as to the likely outcome.
- Provides an early identification of specialist information required to support an application, (relating to Listed buildings, Flood Risk Assessments, Tree Surveys, Renewable Energy technologies, Planning Obligation requirements etc) and the need for specialist officers to be involved.
- Enables proposals to be modified and amended prior to its formal submission as a planning application, which should enable quicker handling of applications to meet government targets.
- Provides an opportunity for community and Member issues to be considered at an earlier stage.
- Reduction in the submission of applications that are completely unacceptable.
- A reduction in the number of re-cycled applications, i.e. free goes following a previous refusal, which whilst free to the applicant have an administrative cost associated with them.
3. Risks to be managed
3.1 The payment of a fee will result in an increased level of expectation from the user – essentially they will want ‘value for money’, and will have a level of expectation which may not be realised if unforeseen difficulties of issues are raised during a formal application that result in a recommendation for refusal.
3.2 The resource implications for the Council will be increased as the process requires a level of commitment by officers to operating a system providing comprehensive advice within more stringent timescales to meet the expectations of the users. They will also need to develop internal systems to endorse the views expressed to ensure that the advice is corporate, confident and consistent.
3.3 There are issues regarding the quality of the advice once it becomes a formal process and the resource implications associated with running such a system with deadlines. The pressure that might accrue from doing this may prove at the end of 12 months that additional staff are necessary to run the system successfully. Budgets have been put in place to provide two additional planning officers and a technician, although these are unlikely to be in place at the commencement of the pre-application charging system.
3.4 There is a risk that some customers may not wish to use the pre-application service once there is a charge and this may result in the submission of poorer quality applications.
3.5 Conflicting advice between the pre-application and application stage would cause dissatisfaction with the service and needs to be avoided.
3.6 The planning system is a democratic and political process and therefore officers can only give a professional opinion on the merits of a scheme. Pre-application advice must not influence the views of members if an application is subsequently determined by a Planning Committee.
4. Fee Levels
4.1 The Local Government Act 2003 sec. 93 enables the Council to recover the costs of providing services which it is not statutorily required to provide, provided that the recipient is prepared to agree to the arrangement. In the light of this change in legislation an increasing number of authorities across the country have started to charge applicants for pre-application discussion and consultations. Whilst the level of fees deemed appropriate is not laid down, the 2003 Act does state that the Council must not recover costs in excess of the costs of providing the service year on year. As a result the level of charging varies considerably across the country.
4.2 In considering the level of appropriate fees it is clear that there is no set standard of what should be provided, however, the fee structure should be simple to understand, operate and administrate and be transparent to its users.
4.3 It is considered that a flat rate fee, with a fee paid in advance would be the simplest approach to manage and understand, although the level of charges would vary depending on the scale of the proposal to reflect the level of work and experience required.
4.4 In relation to Planning Performance Delivery Agreements, these will need to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis and the level of fees will depend on what and who are involved.
4.5 Payment would be by cash or debit/credit card. An additional handling fee would be required for credit card payments. No cheques would be accepted due to problems relating to cheques being “stopped” or “bouncing”. A fee form would be made available online. Fees received for appointments or written submissions would be non-refundable.
4.6 Table 1 sets out the proposed charges.
TABLE 1 Schedule of charges for per application advice.
(site visit / meeting at discretion of officer)
Simple changes of use developments
Equestrian development (commercial & non-commercial)
(site visit / meeting included)
1000sqm of commercial floor space
Site of 0.5 ha or more
Complex change of use development
Development requiring a screening opinion under EIA
Table 2 Other Charges
It is recommended that
1. The schedule of charges set out in Table 2 be approved;
2. The exemptions to pre-application charges as set out in Table 3 be approved;
3. The proposed charging system for pre-application advice be reviewed within 6 months of its implementation; and
4. the charging system be introduced as soon as reasonably practical bearing in mind other changes that need to be implemented in advance such as the new planning structure, Section 106 tariffs and 1 Apps.
Background Papers (DoPD)
CIPFA – A Practical Guide to Local Authorities on discretionary income generation.
Planning Advisory Service and ATLAS – Pilot Planning Delivery Agreements
ODPM – “An Overview of the Evaluation of Planning Standards Authorities 2004-05”
ODPM -- Formulation of Guidance on Access to Planning Information and Charging for copies of documents.
ODPM—General power for Best Value Authorities to Charge for discretionary Services-Guidance on the Local Government Act 2003.
Name: John Anderson Telephone: 01483 523298
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