The institute welcomes the proposal to increase planning application fees to a level at which they recover more of local planning authorities' costs, including overheads, in processing applications.
Responding to the consultation Resources for Planning, Welsh planning policy officer Rebecca Phillips suggests that all costs recovered through the increased fees should be ring-fenced by local authorities for their planning departments. She says that the Welsh Assembly Government sees the options as part of an overall package, along with the additional resources for local authorities to deliver the Planning: Delivering for Wales programme, to increase the resources available to the planning service and improve its quality for users.
"The institute must welcome any proposal that seeks to address the decline in resourcing of the planning service, but underlines the tensions between full cost delivery, extension of the fee regime and increased resourcing of the service. The RTPI supports the assembly's intention to base performance assessment on the whole of the planning service, including development planning, and not to just limit it to the development control function," she says.
The assembly now has reasonably reliable information on the cost of the local planning authority service, including the costs of determining applications, as a result of its commissioned research. "This is the key to a full cost recovery regime and must be periodically updated and linked to inflation rates," says Phillips. "Whether the estimated shortfall in present fee levels is made good in a single step or in phased increases, the point at which full recovery is achieved can be calculated. This must then be used as the basis for regular updating of fee scales so that they are not allowed to fall behind costs as they have done in the past."
Phillips recommends that local planning authorities should be required to produce a formal notice that could be issued to applicants notifying them of any changes to the fee structure. She thinks that a standard notification letter for all local planning authorities in Wales should be considered.
She urges that the notification should also be available on authorities' websites to alert potential applicants.
Phillips does not believe that the maximum fees and thresholds should be abolished. "In the case of some major applications this could mean the applicant funding the whole of the planning service for up to 12 months, in the case of large inquiries. This is unreasonable and would be a disincentive for many developers. It would have a severe impact on economic development, regeneration and investment schemes and could also impede the provision of affordable housing."
- The consultation paper can be viewed via www.countryside.wales.gov.uk/consultations. The paper has been considered by the RTPI Welsh planning policy panel and the secretariat in light of its response to the ODPM consultation paper on planning fees in England, submitted in January 2005.
The full response can be viewed via www.rtpi.org.uk/resources/policy-statements.