The Cost of Planning

This item was covered in Local News 11 – 18 December but I think it’s worth its own post in a slightly expanded form.

It started with the letters page in the most recent Newbury Weekly News in which Gary Lugg, Head of Planning at West Berkshire Council pointed out some of the many reasons why planning applications can take so long. There’s certainly a vast amount of due process and technical work involved, particularly with a complex application like Sandleford in Newbury. I guess many of us think these think these things just happen: clearly they don’t.

That set me wondering how much planning applications actually cost. The answer was surprising and rather shocking. All local councils are obliged by law to charge a fixed fee (set by Central Government) for each kind of application regardless of the costs involved (which can vary considerably from one job to the next). On average, West Berkshire’s Planning Department only recovers about half its application costs from the developers: the rest is paid for you and me through our Council Tax.  If WBC had in the last financial year been able to recover all its planning costs, £675,000 would have been available for it to spend elsewhere. In effect, children’s centres and rural bus services are subsidising commercial developments.I doubt these figures are that different for other councils elsewhere in the country.

The government might argue that it wants to stimulate the building sector and is thus unwilling to burden it with extra costs: but as planning only accounts for about 0.8% of the overall costs of a development, even if this were in some cases doubled it is hardly going to destroy the developers’ margins. It’s even possible that well-presented plans would actually cost the developers less than they do at present. In the context of the severe cuts all councils are having to make this is something of a national scandal.

Reforming this grotesque situation seems to enjoy, in West Berkshire at least, cross-party support but any change will have to come from Westminster. Your MP is waiting to hear from you on the subject…

If any of you feel that anything I’ve said needs clarification or correction, please post a comment at the foot of this page.

Brian Quinn


The Cost of Planning


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