THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL
CABINET: 21ST SEPTEMBER, 2015
REFERENCE FROM PLANNING COMMITTEE: 3RD SEPTEMBER, 2015
“ GENERAL PLANNING MATTERS -
(i) The Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications and Site Visits) (Wales) Regulations 2015 -
The Committee received a report to inform Members of the changes to planning fees from 1st October, 2015, as a result of the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications and Site Visits) (Wales) Regulations 2015, including a new refund system.
The report also sought authorisation for an increase in the fees payable for pre-application enquires in line with the increase in general planning application fees and an amendment to the scheme for delegation to include all applications that are recommended for refusal of planning permission.
The Welsh Government had informed the Council that from 1st October, 2015, the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications and Site Visits) (Wales) Regulations 2015 would come into effect, which introduced various changes to the fees payable for planning services. The Minister had stated that higher planning fees must be accompanied by an increased focus by local planning authorities (LPAs) on improving their statutory planning services. Local Development Plans must be prepared and kept up to date and planning decisions made in a timely way.
Members were minded to recall that the Welsh Government consulted on these proposals in October 2014, and the Council objected to the proposals to introduce a refund scheme (Planning Committee Report 15th January, 2015 referred). Members were advised that they should also note that the Minister for Natural Resources had written to the Council regarding the fee increase. A copy of this letter was attached to the report at Appendix A.
The Regulations introduced a number of changes to the fees payable for planning services, including the right to a refund if an application was not determined within a specified timeframe. The main changes to the regulations are set out below.
The Regulations introduce an increase in fees by approximately 15%. To put this into context, in the Vale of Glamorgan planning fees for the last 3 years had been as follows: 2014/15 – £970,682, 2013/14 – £644,319, and 2012/13 – £759,202. Therefore, based on last year’s fee income, a 15% increase would equate to £145,602 per annum. The report present to Committee stated that this was welcomed as it was long overdue and was essential to continue to deliver an effective Planning Service for the Vale of Glamorgan.
The Committee was informed that Planning application fees may be refunded if the LPA failed to determine the application within specified times, namely 8 weeks after the determination date for household applications (i.e. 16 weeks from the validation date), and 16 weeks after the determination date for all other applications (i.e. 24 weeks from the validation date). Refunds were payable where an extended time period had not been agreed by the agent / applicant or where the applicant had not exercised their right to appeal to the Welsh Ministers for non-determination.
Members were advised that this had significant implications for the Council’s Development Management function as it was not uncommon for planning applications to exceed the statutory timeframe for determination. The main causes for delay in determining planning applications within the statutory time frames were summarised as:
Awaiting submission of further details from applicants / planning agents;
Awaiting internal and external consultee responses;
Reporting to Planning Committee including deferments for site visits; and
Negotiating to improve schemes, including design, layout, impact on neighbours, s106 matters etc.
Members were further advised that in light of this new threat to resources, the Council would need to take immediate steps to prevent circumstances where a refund is payable. There were ways in which the Council could address some of these matters which involved changing practices to minimise these delays, examples of which were:
Officers would need to ensure that requests for the ‘Extension of Time’ for determining applications were made where necessary in a timely manner. In such circumstances, the determination period was extended and allowed the Council more time to determine the application without the threat of a fee refund.
To avoid delays awaiting information, where the applicant refuses to agree to a formal extension of time for determination, applications may need to be refused on the grounds of insufficient information to demonstrate the proposal complies with planning policy. It may also be necessary to introduce or renew service level agreements with consultees to ensure timely responses are given.
It may be necessary for Officers, in discussion with Members, to anticipate site visits for major applications in advance of Planning Committee meetings to avoid deferments.
Negotiations would need to be carried out quickly and efficiently to enable time for the agent / applicant to amend their proposals or agree to the Council’s requirements in a timely manner. Matters that would usually be resolved during the life of an application may be controlled by condition if they did not go to the heart of the development.
The report also recommended amending the Council’s delegated powers for planning decisions to include all applications that were recommended for refusal, to prevent the need to report to Planning Committee those applications which were, in any event deemed to be unacceptable. This could avoid having to pay a refund where an applicant refuses to extend the time period for determination of the application and the matter would (under the current system of delegation) have to be reported to Planning Committee because of the type of application.
The Committee was advised that, in practice Officers already strived to determine applications within time and it was extremely rare for decisions to exceed the determination period other than in situations that were outside the control of the Council. Therefore, it was disappointing that the Welsh Government had chosen to introduce such punitive measures to impede Local Planning Authorities who were already facing significant financial challenges at a time when expectations on service delivery were higher than ever. Furthermore, given the disproportionate emphasis on ‘speed’ of decision making, it was unlikely to improve the quality of proposals and could potentially lead to the approval of development that was not ‘bad’ enough to refuse since negotiations would take too long to achieve a higher standard.
Fees for Approval of Condition Details
The Regulations also introduced fees payable for applications for approval of discharge of conditions, subject to refund if the LPA failed to determine the application within specified times. The fee was payable per application (which may include details for 1 or more planning conditions relevant to an application) at a rate of £95 pounds or £30 for householder applications. The report presented to Committee stated that this was welcomed.
In 2014 the Council approved 1042 planning applications, of which 574 were householder applications. Assuming only 1 submission of conditions details per application this could equate to an annual fee income of £98,990 and £17,220 respectively (the report stated that it should be noted many household applications did not require any discharge of conditions details).
Other matters covered by the Regulations
Fees for deemed applications were to be payable to the LPA rather than half to the LPA and half to the Welsh Ministers.
A fee was now payable for a revised application for approval of reserved matters where those reserved matters had previously been approved. Under the 1989 Regulations, such an application was exempt.
Where applications were made which related to land in the area of two or more LPAs, a fee is payable to each LPA, rather than under the 1989 Regulations where the fee was payable to the LPA in whose area the largest part of the land was situated.
Pre-application Fee Increase
To be consistent with the increase in Planning Fees, it was proposed to increase the fees charged for pre-application advice by 15% from 1st October 2015 as follows:
• Written Advice only – increase from £360 to £414 (or 1% of the appropriate planning fee, whichever is greater)
• Written advice with a meeting – increase from £720 to £828 (or 1.5% of the appropriate planning fee, whichever is greater)
• Written Advice only – increase from £240 to £276
• Written advice with a meeting – increase from £360 to £414
Where the Council did not currently charge for pre-application advice (e.g. householder applications) this was not proposed to change. However, the discretionary charge of £50 for a site visit will increase to £57.50.
In 2014/15 fees for pre-application enquiries raised £28,908, therefore the 15% increase would have accounted for £4336.20 last year.
Following presentation of the report, Members raised concerns which are summarised as follows:
Members should try to be more proactive in requesting site visits for applications in order to try and prevent the planning process being delayed and therefore the possibility that applications may not be determined within specified times.
A more thorough pre-application process would be required in order to try and prevent the refund of planning fees.
Requests for the extension of time for the determination of planning applications could be made.
The public interest was not being served and an increase of planning fees by 15% could not be justified.
Welsh Government sets the fee increases and that the last increase was in 2007; this increase was long overdue. The 15% increase would potentially be unpopular with developers; however, Welsh Government did not seem to be able to instigate a yearly increase.
Concerns were expressed in terms of the impact of waiting for responses from statutory consultees which could delay the planning process and potentially lead to fees needing to be refunded.
Statutory consultees are required to provide representations on applications; and waiting on responses could lead to delays in the process. Welsh Government may in the future assume that if a consultee did not respond within the 21 day consultation period there was no objection to the application. The LPA could agree a time extension in order to prevent the need to refund fees.
Council’s Planning departments were facing progressively greater challenges as not only did targets need to be met, but there was also the possibility of fees being refunded if certain deadlines weren’t met.
The Planning department was looking to put warnings into their systems to flag up deadlines within the process and it was also looking to streamline processes in order to meet targets.
Was there a time limit on the discharge of conditions?
Following consideration of the report, Planning Committee
(1) T H A T the content of the report be noted.
(2) T H A T it be recommended that Cabinet increase fees for pre-application advice by 15% in line with the Welsh Government fee increase for planning applications.
(3) T H A T Cabinet be requested to recommend to Council that the current scheme of delegation be amended to include all applications which are recommended for refusal of planning permission.
(4) T H A T the report be referred to Cabinet and Full Council for information and approval.
Reasons for decisions
(1) To inform Planning Committee of the changes to Planning Fees and the introduction of a refund penalty for Local Planning Authorities from 1st October, 2015.
(2) To ensure the fees payable for pre-application advice are increased in a consistent way with planning application fees, and to ensure the delivery of an effective planning service.
(3) To avoid having to refund a planning fee for an application which is considered to be unacceptable but would exceed the determination date if it were necessary to report to Planning Committee,
(4) To inform Cabinet and Council of the changes to Planning Fees and the introduction of a refund penalty for Local Planning Authorities from 1st October, 2015 to seek Cabinet’s approval of the fee increase for pre-application enquiries and to seek Council’s approval for a change to delegated powers.”
Attached as Appendix - Report to Planning Committee: 3rd September, 2015