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Planning matters

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Planning application fees in Wales are increasing – but will the service improve?
On the 16th December 2019, Welsh Government issued a consultation proposing changes to planning application fees. Essentially, what is proposed is an increase across the board of approximately 20%, the first increase in application fees in Wales since 2015. This appears to be an interim proposal, with the Welsh Government explaining that it will carry out further research in due course to understand the true cost of running development management services. As an example, they say that their evidence demonstrates that minor and householder applications typically cost much more to determine than the fee set by legislation, even with the proposed 20% increase. From our experience, the same could be said about s.73 applications which currently attract a fee of £190, but as we know, can be as complex and time consuming as a full application. The consultation document explains that a Local Planning Authority’s (LPA) primary source of funding is generated from fee income received from determining applications, which are intended to recover the costs for providing the service. However, the costs of running development management services is currently not being met. This is for a number of reasons including additional requirements on development management services due to revised legislation, changes to regulations and policy as well as cutbacks to planning departments as a result of cuts to local government funding. The Welsh Government explains that, alongside general budget cuts of approximately 53% to planning services between 2009 and 2017 the lack of funding secured by application fees could have an impact on the quality and timing of planning decisions. Its evidence suggests that the current fee levels for applications is not sufficient to run an efficient development management service. Whilst the current fee structure set out in the 2015 Regulations saw the most recent planning application fees increase in Wales, over the border in England, planning application fees were increased by 20% in 2017. At the time the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) commented that: “planning fees, even with an increase of 20% recently, only cover 40% of the overall running cost of development control services in England” suggesting that there is still a long way to go before planning departments can fully recover their costs.” It is therefore important to note that a 20% increase may not be a panacea to a fully functioning planning service. So, what will this mean to those that regularly submit planning applications? Below we have set out the proposed application fees for a range of different applications going forward:   The below are theoretical examples only and should not be relied upon when calculating planning application fees. Please contact Lichfields if you require advice on calculating your planning application fee. We also note that it is proposed that the maximum fee limits will increase. For full applications for residential development the fee limit is proposed to increase from £287,500 to £300,000 and for outline applications the fee limit is proposed to increase from £143,750 to £150,000 respectively. Whilst an increase in application fees is not something that any developer would necessarily wish for, developers may conclude that paying slightly more may be worthwhile, but only if the service they receive from a planning department improves in line with the fee increase. Welsh Government statistics[1] show that the average time taken to determine ‘major’ applications in 2017/2018 was 240 days and that only 67.4% of applications were determined within the statutory time periods. The additional income as a result of this increase could in theory provide additional funds to recruit additional staff, which should potentially improve the quality and speed of service. However, a key question is whether the additional income generated is ringfenced for re-investment to the planning department (and associated internal consultees e.g. transport and drainage officers) as opposed to being used for wider local authority services. The consultation paper is unsurprisingly mute on this point. As is explained in the consultation paper it is also important that local government funding for planning departments is not cut further as a result of the additional income generated by the increase in fees. Otherwise, the rationale for the 20% increase cannot be justified and it is likely that the planning service will see a further deterioration, rather than the intended improvements in efficiency and quality. The RTPI’s research[2] into the “value of planning” reports that the planning system contributed £2.35 billion to the Welsh economy in 2016-17. Therefore, given the importance of the planning regime in realising social, economic and environmental benefits it is crucial that the Local Planning Authorities are properly funded. It is hoped that the increase in planning fees will assist in securing faster and better decisions from the LPAs, which is in the interest of the applicant, the authority and the general public – not to mention the economy. Comments are invited on the consultation document until 13 March 2020. [1] All Wales Planning Annual Performance Report 2017-18[2] The Value of Planning in Wales  

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New London Plan Panel Report: Homes for all?

New London Plan Panel Report: Homes for all?

Harry Bennett & Martin Taylor 02 Dec 2019
We’ve been digesting the Inspector Panel findings and the potential implications following the examination of the London Plan. You can view our thoughts on other topic areas here but below we take a look at the all-important issue of housing. On housing, the Panel report finds that the 2017 SHMA provides a reliable starting point for the housing needs of London, agreeing that 66,000 additional homes per year is properly calculated, a need of 660,000 homes over 2019-2029. But in respect of meeting that need, the Panel’s findings diverge from the Mayor’s approach which relied heavily on theoretical small site capacity modelling contained within the SHLAA. The submitted new London Plan (‘NLP’) proposed a 10-year capacity-based target of 649,350 homes with a target for 245,730 on small sites (below 0.25 hectares in size). But the Panel recommends cutting the small sites target to 119,250 and hence overall delivery target to 522,850 (a 19.5% reduction) citing that they are “sceptical about the delivery” from small sites and that the assumed delivery from this source was not “realistically achievable”. This cut has a disproportionate impact on outer London where the SHLAA assumed most of the small site capacity could be found - at one extreme, in the case of Bromley 72% of its housing target was made up of small sites alone. While the reduction to London’s total small sites target is 51%, this corresponds to a 61% reduction to the small sites housing targets in outer London compared to a 26% reduction in inner London, with many of those boroughs seeing no or minimal cuts (see map below). At a local scale, Bromley and Richmond’s overall ten-year housing targets have in effect been halved and as an example Havering’s overall target has fallen near a third. Despite the cut, the revised figures would still represent a 14% increase in delivery from small sites compared to the 2004 to 2016 trend for London as a whole (see table below), a still stretching target which would undoubtedly see a keen focus on increasing density at the neighbourhood level. Interestingly, the recommendations actually represent a 5% decrease on the 12 year trend for inner London boroughs. Flowing from the headline number, the Panel report confirms the principle of the housing requirement operating as 10-year targets, rather than annualised numbers, with a need for the Mayor to take a leading role in setting a trajectory for how that target will be met. Initial analysis by Lichfields indicates any trajectory will need to ramp up delivery over the decade from 32,000 new homes last year, to close to 70,000 homes per year by 2028-29: doubling output over the life of the Plan (see graph below).The implication of this suggested reduced housing target is an increase in London’s unmet housing need, particularly in outer London boroughs, which under the Panel’s recommendations would crystallise at c.14,000 homes per year. The Panel highlights that “it is a major concern that the targets are so far below the assessed need”, but whilst noting that addressing the issue would likely require considerations of Green Belt review or co-operation with local authorities in the wider south-east indicate it is better to “proceed on the basis of an adopted plan rather than one that is in limbo.” This of course leaves wider questions for how that unmet need could and should be reflected in Local Plans progressing across London and the south east. Important for plan-making at the Borough level is that the Panel conclude ‘rolling forward’ the proposed housing targets over a longer period would not be effective. This has to date been usual practice to come to minimum 15-year targets for Local Plans. The panel recommends a change such that housing targets beyond the 10-year period should be adjusted, among other considerations, to take consideration of “local evidence of identified housing capacity”. This will likely see stepped targets in Borough’s Plans and it will be interesting as to how differing authorities interpret this requirement to consider longer term capacity; some might seek to be more expansive in how they define their local capacity (perhaps hand-in-hand with potential Green Belt reviews), whilst others might seek to be more restrictive in defining this, with any targets beyond the 10-years reverting back towards something akin to a small sites windfall allowance. Either way, the panels recommendations would place this firmly in Borough’s hands, deleting the requirement for this process to be “in consultation with the GLA”. Finally, a number of key housing points remain unchanged or are agreed with by the Panel. These include: Agreeing that increasing total housing figures to assist the delivery of more affordable housing would be ineffective given the capacity-based approach to setting housing targets; Agreeing that the threshold approach to affordable housing, set at 35% for private land, and the ‘fast track route’ to viability testing in terms of affordable housing are reasonable and justified; Agreeing that the minimum tenure mix requirements in Policy H7 (30% social rent, 30% intermediate, 40% mix based on local needs) are justified allowing flexibility at a borough level; and Acknowledging that when the London Plan is adopted its housing targets will take precedence over those existing Borough plans even where they are recently adopted: with no transitional arrangements in place. This will create difficulties for certain authorities to demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites. Following the previous Further Alterations to the London Plan in 2015, and despite the Panel’s recommendations, this still represents a further step-up in the targeted delivery of homes in London. However, the clear implication and conclusion from the Panel is that this London Plan will not result in ‘homes for all’ and still leaves some unanswered questions as to how the gaps between current housing delivery, the increased housing targets and the higher still housing needs will be bridged. See our other blogs in this series: In search of London’s future industrial land Lichfields will publish further analysis on the London Plan Panel Report and its implications in due course. Click here to subscribe for updates.

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