Councils will be able to raise application fees in return for better service, Jenrick announces

The housing secretary Robert Jenrick today announced that the government would allow councils to raise planning application fees in return for higher quality services, and will also consider how pre-commencement conditions can be cut further.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick speaking at the Policy Exchange event this morning
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick speaking at the Policy Exchange event this morning

Jenrick was speaking at a Conservative Party Conference fringe event this morning organised by the free market Policy Exchange think tank.

He said the government wants to "get the planning system working in a much simpler and faster way" and to review it to "bring it into the 21st century". 

Jenrick said: "We are going to be looking at how we can give more capacity to local councils whose planning departments have been diminished in many respects so that people can get a good quality service. 

"So that means somewhat higher fees, though not unreasonably, in return for good quality service. 

"And we are also looking at an automatic rebate, where it makes sense, if those deadlines are missed." 

In an interview with The Times today, Jenrick added that "in return for more cash from central government, councils will be expected to make quicker decisions".

In January 2018, local authorities were given the option of increasing planning fees by 20 per cent on the condition that any additional income was reinvested in planning teams.

But the government had also announced, in September 2017, that it was considering increasing fees in certain areas, where homes had been delivered to meet "community needs", by a further 20 per cent. 

In February, government chief planner Steve Quartermain revealed that the government was still weighing up if it should proceed with the additional fee increase, pending an examination of whether the first fee rise actually benefited planning teams.

At the conference fringe event today, Jenrick also said the government was "looking at how we can dramatically reduce the number of conditions". 

He said: "There's been a huge increase over my lifetime in the number of conditions on new buildings. 

"We are also looking at how we can do that in a more sane way so [developers] can get started and sort out the issue of pre-commencement so that things that don't happen until much later in the planning process don't need to be sorted out before shovels get in the ground and people get building." 

Jenrick promised there was "more to come" in terms of "significant planning reforms".

He said the changes today were "very much inspired by the work of Policy Exchange".

Elsewhere, Jenrick said the government wants to "refocus our energy on getting more people on the housing ladder", suggesting a possible change in attitude from Theresa May's premiership when the government widened its focus to support the build to rent sector and the building of more social housing as well as private housing.

He said: "There's a temptation by government to say it's too difficult and we should focus more on the private rented sector and the rights and security of tenants there. 

"We don't think that's unimportant and we are going to continue to address those issues with equal fervour, but we also going to refocus our energy also on home ownership."

Jenrick went on to say the government would introduce a shared ownership right for housing association tenants.

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