Planning fees announcement due 'within weeks'

The government could unveil its long-delayed plans to reform the planning fees system before Parliament's summer recess, according to a senior Department for Communities and Local Government civil servant.

In November 2010, decentralisation minister Greg Clark launched a consultation on plans to replace the current system - whereby fixed fees are set by central government - with a system that would give local authorities the power to set their own fees to cover costs.

At the time, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said that if the proposals were adopted, councils would be able to set their own fees from April 2011. However, the DCLG made no further announcement on the proposal, leaving councils to set budgets with no certainty on the fees issue.

Answering a question from a local authority planner during a "CLG Surgery" event at the 2012 RTPI Convention this morning, Shona Dunn, director of planning at the department, said she hoped the issue would be resolved in the coming weeks.

She said: "I very much hope that in the next few weeks we will set out the way forward. I’m using those words very deliberately because I really can’t give you any more detail on what that way forward will be because I need to leave that to ministers.

"I hope that that will be in the next few weeks and, given that we’ve got the recess coming up shortly, I hope that gives you the timeframe which we are hopefully able to stick to."

Answering another question on the long-awaited abolition of regional strategies, Dunn said the department isstill working through consultation responses on environmental assessments into the planned revocation. She said: "Consultation closed in January, we had a lot of very detailed, quite complicated and quite complex responses.

"That’s a process we are still working through, and it’s not one we are prepared to hurry. We want to do it rigorously and properly, so I can’t give you a time frame when we will move to the next stage, but we’re working through it and will do so as quickly as we can".

Answering a further question on the issue, Dunn said the situation is "not perfect". She added that "ministers are keen to move forward as quickly as possible, but their decisions have to be taken subject to the environmental assessment of the abolition of the regional strategies and that’s the process we’re going through".

Elsewhere at the surgery, Jane Everton, deputy director for development plans, hinted at new funding for local authorities to deal with the extra demands of neighbourhood planning. "There has been funding for neighbourhood planning set through the spending review," she said.

"So far that has been delivered to local authorities as front runners with neighbourhoods. We’re looking at how that funding can now be used to meet the new burdens for local authorities through the duty to support on neighbourhood planning and we’re just looking at the best way of how that is given out to local authorities."