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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 31/03/2008
REVIEW OF THE PLANNING SERVICE –
CHARGING FOR PRE-APPLICATION ADVICE.



Summary & Purpose
In July 2007 the Executive agreed to introduce a charge for pre-application advice but before implementing that instructed officers to carry out further work on the charges to be levied and to seek further views of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

This work has now been completed and ELOS is asked to consider the proposed charging scheme and make any observations to the Executive.


APPENDIX D

WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL
ENVIRONMENT AND LEISURE OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE
31ST MARCH 2008
___________________________________________________________________

Title:
REVIEW OF THE PLANNING SERVICE –
CHARGING FOR PRE-APPLICATION ADVICE.
[Portfolio Holder for Planning: Cllr B A Ellis]
[Wards Affected: all]

Summary and Purpose

In July 2007 the Executive agreed to introduce a charge for pre-application advice but before implementing that instructed officers to carry out further work on the charges to be levied and to seek further views of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

This work has now been completed and ELOS is asked to consider the proposed charging scheme and make any observations to the Executive.

___________________________________________________________________

Environmental implications:

The service is key to achieving corporate objectives in protecting and enhancing the Borough’s environment. A good pre-application advice service will add value to the planning process by increasing the prospect of encouraging development proposals to be submitted in accordance with the Council’s policies and reducing the number of poorly made applications.

Social / community implications:

The service is key in delivering through planning policies and development control decisions development to meet social and community needs. Through pre application discussions local community issues can be introduced into the development process.

E-Government implications:

The Council’s website could be improved to provide more detail relating to standard advice on planning issues and “signposting” for customers to statutory consultees, contact details and guidance on the information required for different issues.

A facility to submit and pay for a pre-application enquiry online, attaching plans and documents electronically could be developed to enhance the service.

Resource and legal implications:

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.

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.

The successful operation of the scheme will require the provision of the additional resource of:


There may be legal implications if the service begins to fail in meeting reasonable expectations of its customers. For example, the Ombudsman has already expressed a growing concern about the length of time the Council is taking to respond to complaints. If the situation is not resolved then there will be a risk of maladministration occurring with damaging implications for the service. The liability to the Council is likely to be limited to the extent of the fee being paid by the customer. The report alludes to resource implications, which could stretch beyond just the Planning Service. Planning applications can be contentious and there is a real likelihood of increased requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act and/or the Environmental Information Regulations (exemptions from disclosure are more restrictive under EIR than under FOI, with the result that more requests may be acceded to, depending on the circumstances). Matters such as confidentiality, non-disclosure of commercial information, and the application of the “public interest” test will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis, with input from Legal Services where appropriate.

The customer would need to agree to the “without prejudice” status of any advice and measures should be put in place to limit the level of liability with regard to the Council’s professional indemnity insurance

1. Introduction

1.1 The Executive resolved in July 2007 that:


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:


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.
Planning Surgeries
Surgery for Householder enquiries – extensions, garages etc (drop in system – first come first served. 15 min slots)30 (inc.VAT)
Surgery for other developments (appointment system to talk through principles and a sense of direction – 30 minute slots will limit the level of detail provided)80 (plus VAT)
Written Pre-Application

Minor Proposals

(site visit / meeting at discretion of officer)

Householder enquiries, shopfronts, adverts50 (inc.VAT)
Residential developments (1 – 3 units)150 (plus VAT)
Commercial property developments (minor proposals)

Simple changes of use developments

Equestrian development (commercial & non-commercial)

Telecommunications development

150 (plus VAT)
Written Pre-Application

Significant Proposals

(site visit / meeting included)

Residential developments (4 units plus or where the number of units is not known)600 (plus VAT)
Commercial Property Developments (major proposals)

1000sqm of commercial floor space

Site of 0.5 ha or more

Complex change of use development

Development requiring a screening opinion under EIA

600 (plus VAT)
Development Control Consultative Forum1000 plus the cost of any recoverable external fees (VAT not applicable)
Planning Delivery AgreementsTo be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

Table 2 Other Charges
Compliance letter fixed charge50
history searches50
Post decision Minor amendments50

There are no proposed changes to other charges such as compliance letters, site history searches, and post decision minor amendments.

5. Terms of Engagement

5.1 The department will need to clearly articulate the terms of engagement and it is anticipated that this will differ in relation to the service provided at the surgery, compared to that responded to in writing.

6. Planning Surgery

6.1 At the surgery, officers would only be able to provide two-dimensional assessment of a plan, and the identification of principle constraints and policy requirements. It must be assumed that the officer would have very little or no knowledge of the site or its immediate context and the view / opinion would purely be based on the information provided on a “without prejudice” basis. The householder “drop in” surgery would not require the submission of details in advance.

6.2 However, for the larger scale development “appointment based” surgery, the customer would be asked to provide a location plan of the site or clearly identify the site, together with a brief description of what is proposed.

6.3 At the planning surgeries, the customer will be provided with a completed checklist, filled in by the officer during the meeting. This would cover general principles, policy criteria and identify the likely issues and concerns, which are evident from the information provided. A print out of the site constraints and summary of the planning history will also be provided.

7. Written requests for pre-application advice

7.1 For written submissions, an acknowledgement letter or email together with receipt of payment would be sent within 3 working days.

7.2 In considering proposals submitted in writing for householder proposals or those for 1-3 dwellings or minor commercial developments, the department will aim to respond in writing within 15 working days of receipt of the enquiry. In considering these proposals it is envisaged that these would be dealt with solely by written response without a site visit or meeting (although this will always be at the discretion of the officer).

7.3 The larger scale proposals, for 4 dwellings or more or major commercial development would include a meeting and are likely to require a site visit, (although this will always be at the discretion of the officer and should be unaccompanied). The Council will endeavour to hold a meeting within 10 days of the date of receipt and will follow up with a written response within 10 days of the meeting.

7.4 In the event that the department is unable to meet these timescales, the customer will be contacted to give an indication of the likely response and the reason for the delay. For example, if further information is required in order to assess the proposal, the customer would be contacted and a revised timetable suggested.

7.5 Given the nature of pre-application enquires and the fact that many of them are confidential and speculative, the customer would be requested to clarify if a site visit is possible and if so, provide contact details to arrange access. In the interests of maximising efficiency, site visits should be unaccompanied, (unless an accompanied site visit is deemed necessary by the officer), and should be seen as a fact finding exercise and an assessment of the site constraints and the wider context of the area to assist in the consideration of the proposal.

7.6 The advice provided at pre-application stage will be offered in good faith based on the information submitted and available at the time. Whilst the view expressed at the surgery will be the personal view of the officer, those enquiries submitted in writing would represent the view of the department, having been agreed by a team leader or other senior officer to ensure consistency and robustness of advice. Nevertheless, pre-application negotiations are not a substitute for the formal planning application process and can offer no guarantees. Essentially, therefore, the advice will be provided on a without prejudice basis to the views of the Council.

7.7 It should be noted that little or no weight would be given to the content of the Council’s pre-application advice where the schemes are submitted more than 12 months after the date of the advice being issued or where there has been a change in national or local planning policy.

8. The Scope of the Pre-application Advice Service

8.1 The level of advice will clearly depend on the nature of the inquiry and the point at which the discussion is being held. Officers envisage that pre-application discussions can be divided into four process areas:


8.2 Clearly there will be times where these processes merge, and indeed many agents and applicants do not approach the planning department until they are at stage 3 or 4.

9. Scope of the Planning Surgery Advice

9.1 Whilst it is intended to continue operating the surgery as currently provided, it is considered that this could be improved by the provision of a designated computer terminal being provided with a pro forma checklist for completion by the officer during the meeting. This would provide a written record of the meeting for the customer, and would be part of the service and also an electronic record for the Council to access in perpetuity. The fees for such a service would need to be collected by the planning enquiry team at the time of registration. Facilities for payment would need to be arranged.

9.2 The appointment based surgery would need to be administered and would need to ensure that all fees, location plans and a brief description were submitted prior to the meeting. It is suggested that meetings would be limited to 30 minutes and would be on set days. The customer would be provided with a print-out of the policy constraints, the recent planning history and a completed pro forma outlining the main issues for consideration.

9.3 Any follow up meeting to discuss the proposal in more detail would be subject to the charging structure for written submissions.

10. Scope of written requests for pre-application advice

10.1 The department is committed to responding to all written pre-application enquires if they are received with an appropriate payment.

10.2 The information provided will cover all planning constraints on the site, such as TPOs, Conservation Areas, Listed buildings, flood risk levels, public footpaths and other statutory designations and site specific Development Plan Policies. Officers would provide a view on the key design and site constraints and the characteristics of the area. Advice would be given relating to the design, such as siting, scale, mass and materials. The response would also outline the Council’s requirements for contributions to infrastructure provision, affordable housing requirements, SPA contributions, and the provision of open space etc.

10.3 The officer would advise where additional information would be required with an application to assess the proposal and to satisfy the National and Local Requirements of the new One App forms. For example, tree surveys, arboriculture assessments, renewable energy calculations, energy efficiency measures, structural surveys, marketing details, flood risk assessments etc. They may also advise what issues should be covered within the Design and Access Statement.

10.4 The pre-application process is closely linked to the success of the “Vanguard” project that Waverley has been piloting with Woking Borough Council as part of the Surrey Planning Collaboration Project. One of the outcomes of the “Vanguard” process was that applications should be “cleaned up” at the beginning of the application process and once only.

10.5 Providing advice to customers on how to provide a “clean” application is seen as a key objective of the pre-application service. However, officers can only provide advice on the information submitted. Experience shows the level of information provided with a pre-application submission is limited in comparison to a planning application and therefore it will not be possible to fully “clean up” an application at the pre-application stage. However, officers will aim to provide as much advice as possible on how to achieve a “clean” application.

10.6 Where possible, officers will seek to obtain views from other departments within the Council. Because of the need to adhere to response timescales, and given the difficulties associated with obtaining timely advice form external consultees, the views of external consultees are unlikely to be sought. However officers will provide details of appropriate contacts with external organisations necessary for any pre-application consultation, to enable the applicant to contact them directly.

10.7 On the larger proposals, where appropriate, it is suggested that a modified version of the standard report format might assist in providing a structured response and would assist in setting up the framework for an officer’s consideration of a proposal when formally submitted.

11. Exemptions

11.1 Whilst the introduction of the proposed charges is initially a pilot scheme subject to review, it will mean that almost all free pre-application discussions would cease. It is intended, however that the structure should allow for the Head of Planning Services or Team Leader to exercise their discretion to waive the fee where there is considered to be a community justification. For example, it is not envisaged that a fee will be payable in the circumstances set out in table 3 ___________________________________________________________________
Recommendation

That ELOS make any observations to the Executive on:

___________________________________________________________________
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.
___________________________________________________________________
CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: John Anderson Telephone: 01483 523298


Email: john.anderson@waverley.gov.uk

___________________________________________________________________

G:\bureau\comms\o&s3\2007-08\00 31 march 2008\05 charges for pre app service.doc


ANNEXE 1
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL
EXECUTIVE - 10TH JULY 2007
___________________________________________________________________
Title:
CHARGING FOR PLANNING SERVICES
[Wards Affected: All]
___________________________________________________________________

Summary and purpose:

The Modernising Planning Special Interest Group on 28th February 2007 debated the principle of charging for discretionary planning services and this report reflects its conclusions. This report should be read in the context of the discussion on the future shape of the planning service (the previous report on the agenda refers (Appendix J.1)).

The increasing pressure on planning workloads, together with the shift in its emphasis within local government, is placing strains on the delivery of services to meet expectations. In the context of limited Council resources this paper explains how charging those customers directly receiving the service, rather than being subsidised by the general council taxpayer, might generate additional income.

At the same time, the proper resourcing of discretionary services will assist the Council to maintain its corporate objectives of maintaining Development Control Performance and improving planning services.

This report was considered by the previous administration in March 2007 when the decision was taken to refer the report to the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee to be considered in overview mode. The Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee discussed the report at its meeting on 19th June and Members’ comments are set out at the end of this report.

Social/Community implications:

The planning service is at the heart of protecting and enhancing the quality of life within the Borough. It is recognised as a high priority within the Corporate Plan in delivering wider community benefits. In particular the delivery of key infrastructure projects through S106 contributions is important.

E-Government implications:

There are no direct ICT implications arising from this report. ICT will continue to be a key delivery tool for the service.

Resource and legal implications:

The resource implications are explained in the body of the report.

There may be legal implications if the service begins to fail in meeting reasonable expectations of its customers. For example, the Ombudsman has already expressed a growing concern about the length of time the Council is taking to respond to complaints. If the situation is not resolved then there will be a risk of maladministration occurring with damaging implications for the service. The liability to the Council is likely to be limited to the extent of the fee being paid by the customer.
Introduction

1. The Local Government Act 2003 introduced powers for Councils that achieve a good best value rating to make charges for discretionary services. The background to this was explained in the report to the Executive on 5th September 2006 in relation to Planning Delivery Agreements.

2. It is considered that charges could be introduced for the following work areas:

? Pre-application advice.
? Compliance checks
? Consideration of amended plans/non-material amendments.
? Planning history research
? Monitoring and management of S106 agreements Charging for Planning Advice

3. Experience has shown that private sector interests are willing to pay for pre-application advice. However, in those authorities that have introduced such a charging system, the private sector is clear that they are willing to pay for the advice as long as they have access to council officers at the appropriate level to give a considered and balanced response. Equally, the LPAs have found that developers need to present proposals at the pre-application stage that are sufficiently detailed to allow meaningful discussion of the planning issues to take place.

4. This section sets out the areas where the Council could consider charging for elements of the planning service with an indication of a range of charges that could be considered. The ODPM paper "General Power for Best Value Authorities to Charge for Discretionary Services - Guidance on the Power in the Local Government Act 2003" sets out the basic rules for such charges the principal one being that such charges are limited to cost recovery.

5. Introducing charges would enhance the planning service and have the following advantages:

? The customer would pay for the service, not the Council Taxpayer;
6. Alternatively, the disadvantages could be:
? Initial demand may outstrip resources.

7. Any charging system must be based on covering costs and should not be profit-making. Furthermore it would be unlawful to implement a charging system that discriminated against non-Waverley residents but it would be acceptable to have a system that recognised disadvantaged groups such as disabled people. Where existing services are charged for, payment in advance or on application is the usual practice. This should be the case as it avoids extra costs associated with debt recovery should payment in arrears not be made. 8. This would be a new regime for the Council and requires careful consideration and consultation prior to implementation, and review thereafter. The basic principles of any charging scheme should be that it is open, fair and consistent. It is not proposed to make charges for Parish Councils other than S106 agreements, although they are unlikely to arise. An explanation of the issues surrounding the introduction of charges for such services is outlined below.

Pre-application advice

9. “Pre-application advisory service” is the term used to describe how councils engage with applicants before the submission of a planning application to ensure that all parties understand what is expected of them. The government is encouraging councils to speed up the planning process by engaging with applicants early. Many councils already have effective practices in place at the pre-application stage. Waverley commits to a pre-application advisory service as part of its Planning Customer Charter but is struggling to provide this consistently.

10. Recent research undertaken by the Audit Commission has revealed a high degree of stakeholder consensus around the importance of pre-application processes since it allows issues to be identified, enabling parties to address these at an early stage in the design process. This can avoid abortive use of time and money. It is also central to the Council’s shaping agenda.

11. Pre-application processes are a valuable tool to improve the effectiveness of the planning process. An effective pre-application advisory service is one which:

? properly records pre-application discussions; ? resources the service adequately;
12. The Audit Commission has highlighted that private sector stakeholders and others identified that the lack of councillor involvement at the pre-application stage can be a drawback in the system. Waverley has addressed this issue through the Development Control Consultative Forums that are now gaining national recognition.

13. It is recommended that a protocol should be prepared providing a detailed explanation of the material needed to accompany any pre-application enquiry, and what the Council will provide in response, for the benefit of users and the Council alike. The Modernising Planning SIG discussed a draft protocol that will need further work should the Executive agree the charging proposal. This could be introduced on a trial basis and refined through experience.

14. At the present time, Waverley offers a free pre-application advice service but that is becoming increasingly difficult to deliver and meet user expectations due to the high workloads. Two elements of that service nevertheless appear to have generated significant customer satisfaction. These are the Planning Surgery run for the benefit of householder applications and the Development Control Consultative Forums that address “Major” development proposals. However, the service is currently struggling to deliver effective pre application advice to applicants for the development proposals that sit between these extremes. This is an area that attracts many customer complaints.

15. The two primary ways of delivering the service are through appointments or by correspondence. Some advice is sought over the telephone but callers are normally advised to put their request in writing.

16. Cases range from extensions to houses through to housing estates and commercial developments. Any charging system needs to recognise the different resource implications between the types of proposed development.

17. The simplest approach would be to charge on a flat rate basis related to officer grade. Alternatively a percentage of the planning application fee, for example a 25% charge, could be levied. The difficulty with this approach would be with setting a charge for larger scale development. Thus, a fee structure based on an hourly rate would be easier to understand by prospective applicants, easier to implement, and is preferable. Surrey Heath currently charge 150 per hour for a meeting with a principal officer and feedback suggests that the industry is willing to pay such a charge for quality advice. This cost would not only reflect the time of the meeting, but any preparation work and follow-up work.

18. The Modernising Planning SIG considered that the proposed fee would necessarily represent the true costs of dealing with Major applications and suggested that this be increased. Officers have therefore suggested that this be increased to 300 from 150. Where additional input is required form other professions such as Environmental Health Officers the fee would be doubled. In addition to this, Members are reminded that where a developer wishes to enter into a Planning Delivery Agreement then the charge would be negotiated in relation to the specifics of that particular project. For example, Cherokee the Cranleigh Brick and Tile applicant agreed to fund a pre application process up to 65,000. Similar agreements are in place for the proposed new Dunsfold settlement upon which work has started.

19. It is suggested that if a site visit is required, an additional 50 per site is charged.

20. Officers suggested that an additional charge of 500 could be charged for a Development Control Consultative Forum. Given the organisation involved, the feedback from key consultees, the community and members it is considered this still represents good value for money. However, like all of these services it would not be desirable to make a charge that is prohibitive and the value of this initiative is lost. The Modernising Planning SIG however, concluded that a charge should be levied to cover the actual costs of the event, which is likely to be higher than the 500 suggested. Officers hope to be able to report further on this matter at the meeting.

21. The planning surgery is currently focused on the householder enquiries. It is an informal system in the form of a drop-in surgery but hosted by a Principal Officer and the Manager of the Neighbourhood Team. If charging was to be introduced for this service it is suggested that it should be fairly modest at only 20 to 30 a visit. No charge is suggested for general enquires over the counter at the locality offices and planning reception that generally can be easily answered. The Modernising Planning SIG concluded with some reservations that it would be reasonable to charge a fee of 30 to reflect this service and to accommodate the demands of agents seeking to access this service.


Carrying out compliance checks

22. This is where owners or prospective purchasers request that the Planning Authority confirms that planning conditions have been correctly discharged. Alternatively, a property owner can engage a Surveyor to carry out a compliance check on their behalf (the indications are that this service could be subject to VAT). 23. It is suggested a flat rate fee of 50 be charged for this service based on charges being levied by other Local Authorities. Where a request is made to confirm whether a development has been completed in accordance with approved plans and conditions this would normally trigger an application for a Lawful Development Certificate, which would attract a fee in its own right.

Consideration of amended plans

24. After planning permission or any other consent has been granted, it is the Council’s practice to accept and consider minor (non-material) amendments to approved plans. Strictly speaking such a process is not provided for in the Planning Acts but it is general custom and practice throughout the country for genuinely minor amendments. If an amended plan procedure is not operated then a planning application would have to be submitted and the usual fee paid, unless the application was received within 12 months of the original decision. It is suggested that a flat rate fee of 50 be introduced for householder developments and 100 for other developments

25. One anomaly would be in respect of listed building consent applications, which do not attract an application fee. Until such time as Government introduces a charge for such applications it would be hard to justify a charge for considering listed building consent amended plans.

Planning history research

26. This is where prospective purchasers enquire of Development Control as to what the planning history is of a particular site or group of sites. Prospective users of this service are advised that they can undertake the research of planning records themselves at no cost. Alternatively the Council can do it for them at a cost. The council already levies a charge for copies of planning decisions and other documents but a charge of 50 per hour could be considered.

S106 Agreements

27. Councils are now permitted to make a charge to developers for the monitoring of S106 agreements in terms of their implementation of obligations. This is normally a flat rate charge for the life of the obligation and would go towards someone responsible for monitoring the implementation of obligations and the receipt and expenditure of contributions. Based on discussions with other authorities in the Surrey Collaboration Project on S106 agreements, a 5% charge of the value of the benefits is recommended and this would be used to fund a post to manage this important resource.

Income and Expenditure

28. The introduction of charges for services as outlined above brings with it the expectation of prompt, accurate service delivery. Customers would naturally be concerned that if payment for a service is introduced it should be promptly delivered. This will require the re-focus of aspects of the Development Control function on customer service rather than a regulatory tradition. This is a challenge that can best be met by re-investing any income generated in these measures in service improvement. For example it will be necessary to look at the prospect of dedicated pre-application enquiry staff and the availability of accommodation for pre-application meetings.

29. The charging for such services has professional liability insurance implications. However, these will be covered by the insurances the Council already has without an increase in premium.

30. Table 1 below sets out a possible income stream from the services that could be charged for in the future. However there is a significant health warning with this budget forecast.

Table 1 Possible Income from Charges and likely expenditure.Estimated NoEstimate ChargeIncome
No of S106 agreements (2007/8) and Not Major developments.100
Management and monitoring fee 5%
Income10,000
No of S106 agreements (2007/8) Major developments.5
Management and monitoring fee major applications.5%
Income6,000
Pre application advice Minor Applications
No of cases500
Cost per case150
Income75,000
Pre application advice Major Applications
No of cases50
Cost per case300
Income15,000
No of surgeries700
Planning surgery30
Income21,000
No of DCCF events8
Cost per DCCF500?
Income4,000?
No of compliance letters20
Compliance letter fixed charge50
Income1,000
No of history searches100
Cost per search50
Income from history5,000
No of Post decision Minor amendments100
Fixed charge 50
Income from minor amendments5,000
Total income142,000
PostsEstimated Costs
DC Technician/ Support26,200
Tree Admin officer5,000
Total costs 3 Planning Assist96,216
Senior Planner (pt Pre Apps)20,000
Total costs142,421
Additional Expenditure required to manage workloads and enhance services.

31. The figures are based on assumptions and attitudes of the development industry and information from other authorities. Experience elsewhere may not translate to Waverley. There is uncertainty in the elasticity in demand / price relationship. There is uncertainty in long-term development demands. There is no current track record to support income assumptions.

32. Members will note that income potentially could generate 149,500 a year. However there will be bound to be slippage and set up costs assuming S106 policy documents will not be in place until July this year and there is the need to recruit staff before service improvements can be delivered. However the models suggest that the majority of additional costs can be covered by the additional income.

Implementation 33. The proposals present a dilemma. Enhanced services cannot be delivered without additional staff resource and staff resources cannot be delivered without necessary budget provision. 34. It is therefore recommended that a phased approach be taken to the enhancement of the service to reduce the risks to the Council by ensuring an early income stream. Income for the monitoring of S106 agreements can be collected from July 2007 and this amounts to 12,000 in 2007/8. 35. The redeployment of the Senior Planning Officer returning from maternity leave would cost 20,000 in 2007/8 and this post could commence the pre application service and generate an income stream relatively quickly and avoid recruitment costs. This is estimated to provide income of 20,000 accounting for capacity and should be self financing. 36. The key resources to put in place are two Planning Officers in the Major Sites team to facilitate Principal Officers to adopt a “consultant role”. This would cost 62,000.

37. The creation of a career grade posts at Planning Assistant level, as explained in the previous report, would have an impact of 2,000 in 2007/8. 38. It is therefore recommended that the Council agree a supplementary estimate up to 52,000 (62,000 + 2,000 - 12,000) to initiate the improvements of the service in 2007/08. It is anticipated the income stream could be developed throughout the year to be self sufficient in 2008/9. Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee

39. The Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee considered the report on 19th June.
40. There was a discussion about the level of charge and the need for it to be proportionate with the application. Members also felt it was important to put constraints on officers’ time spent in discussions with developers. The Committee agreed to:

Conclusion

41. The Modernising Planning SIG concluded that the Council should introduce charging for planning advice and recommended that a protocol be published clearly setting out the parameters of the service. This will be to the benefit of the users of the service and accord with best practice

42. It also recommended that the services that attract a charge should be closely monitored and a report reviewing performance be prepared after the first year’s operation.

Recommendation

It is recommended 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;

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.

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.

CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: John Anderson Telephone: 01483 523298

Comms/exec/2007-08/034