In what is described as the biggest change to the structure of planning fees in over 25 years, the Scottish Government is proposing a new approach to how the performance of Local Planning Authorities (LPA) is measured in the hope that applicants will see improvements to performance in return for paying more to obtain planning permission.
This latter position does seem to be supported by applicants and agents who would be prepared to pay higher fees for a better planning service, according to consistent feedback to the RTPI Scotland.
Planning application fees were last increased in 2017, however research shows that they currently cover, on average, only two thirds of the cost of determining a planning application. The Scottish Government therefore recently consulted on increasing application fees in addition to widening the scope of charging for other planning-related services.
The consultation paper sought views on increasing the maximum planning fee from £125,000 to £150,000 in some circumstances, as well as the per unit fee. It also invited comments on the introduction of charges for discretionary services such as pre-application discussions, enhanced project managed applications, increased fees (at LPA discretion) for retrospective applications and waiving or reducing planning fees, as well as charging, for the first time, for planning appeals and for listed building consent.
The following examples highlight the proposed fee changes:
For single residential units, a 50% increase in fees is proposed (£400 to £600), while a housing scheme of 100 units would see a 20% increase (£30,050 to £36,300).
Retail & Leisure, including extensions
Planning application fees for retail and leisure projects are calculated on the basis of gross floor space to be created. For example, the proposed development of 1,500m2 new floor space faces an increase of 58% (£8,020 to £12,700), whereas the development of 20,000m2 new floor space would be subject to a fee increase of 70% (£63,650 to £108,200).
Business & Commercial, including extensions
Fees for business and commercial proposals are also calculated on the basis of gross floor space. Some reductions in fees are proposed in this regard. For example, for the proposed development of 1,500m2 new floor space a decrease of 20% is proposed (£8,020 to £6,400). However, the proposed development of 20,000m2 would face an increase in fees of 26% (£63,650 to £80,200).
The consultation paper recognises that increasing planning application fees in isolation is not the only solution. Smarter resourcing and greater use of digital services could also increase overall efficiency in the planning system.
It is hoped that better resourcing and increased efficiencies will lead to improved decision making timescales. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Scottish national average timescale for determination of a planning application for ‘local’ scale development was 9.4 weeks (as per 2019 Q4 statistics). The Scottish Government advises that LPAs should seek to determine ‘local’ development scale planning applications within eight weeks.
However, as income generated by planning application fees is not ring fenced, there is no means of ensuring that the expected additional monies raised through the proposed fees increase would be wholly invested in planning services. In this respect, such monies could potentially be re-allocated by Local Authorities to fund other services and projects. Therefore, critics of the proposed fees increase have suggested that it may not have as full an effect as hoped.
The Planning Team at Galbraith will continue to monitor the situation as it develops and are on hand to provide expert advice on this and other planning-related matters.