Removal of the ‘free go’
From 6 December 2023, the UK Government will be removing the exemption of fees for repeat planning applications, meaning that there will no longer be free ‘second chance’ planning applications.
It is imperative that applicants ensure that the planning applications that they submit include all necessary information to enable determination. Alternatively, if applicants are met with a request to withdraw an application and resubmit, they are advised to consider liaising with the Planning Officer(s) to seek an alternative solution, such as the submission of additional information or the agreement of an extension of time. This could avoid the repayment of planning application fees when resubmitting proposals.
Increase in planning application fees
The proposed removal of the free go is not the only change from December: all planning application fees payable to Local Planning Authorities in England will be increasing. Applications for major development (proposals of 10 dwellings or more, or over 1000sqm of floorspace) will increase by 35%, whilst all other application fees will increase by 25%. The last time that these fees were increased was January 2018 and prior to that, November 2012.
Following this increase, from 1 April 2025, all application fees will increase annually by 10% or in line with inflation, whichever figure is lower.
These amendments to the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) Regulations follow a consultation earlier this year. The majority of respondents supported the proposed increases. The CLA did not; we noted the potential for increased fees to disincentivise desirable development and pointed out opportunities such as advances in technology to increase productivity. Despite our objections, the fee increases shall be proceeding, and from December, it will be more expensive to apply for planning permission.
The government has stated that the increase in planning application fees would provide the resources to support faster and better decision making of planning applications. However, the current funding shortfall for the planning service is estimated to be £225m per annum. The proposed fee increase will only provide an estimated additional £65m per annum and so clearly will not be enough to plug the identified gap.
The additional capital generated from the increase in the application fees will not be ringfenced for use wholly by planning departments. When responding to the consultation on the fee increases earlier this year, the CLA was skeptical over whether the increases could be sensibly ringfenced. Although 88% of respondents to the consultation thought the fee increases should be ringfenced, the government rejected the idea. This is a major concern and may result in these amendments not going far enough to improve the planning system.
In addition, it is important to note that alongside the funding shortfall in the planning application system, many local authorities are grappling with overall budget deficits and in the most extreme case, Birmingham City Council declared themselves bankrupt earlier this year. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to suggest that planning departments may not benefit from the fee increase themselves, but rather that the additional revenue will go towards supporting other local authority spending areas instead.
With the cost of applying for planning permission going up, the submission of speculative planning applications may be reduced which could in turn reduce the number of cases individual Planning Officers are tasked with reviewing. Taken in consideration with the long-awaited announcement of local authorities that have been successful in applying for a new Planning Delivery Skills Funding (£24m to address skills gaps and backlogs with planning across two years to 2025), the planning system could be on the brink of sufficient improvement.
Combined with the recently proposed expansion of permitted development rights, this change could reduce the workload for local planning authorities, enabling prioritisation for planning officers and in turn, improving the planning system. In theory, this could mean quicker approvals for essential projects such as barn conversions, diversification projects, or new agricultural buildings, facilitating necessary improvements to rural properties and businesses. The proof of any improvement shall be apparent over the next 6-12 months.
The CLA’s response to the consultation can be found here.