Draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2002

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I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North accepts my point about pre-application discussions. Obviously, some costs of the process are not covered by the fee structure, and we are considering other ways to resolve those pressures.

Although the hon. Member for Teignbridge made some important comments, many of them related to the process. No one would disagree that there are some real problems with the process. The hon. Gentleman also referred to planning regulations, and we shall consider that in our ongoing discussions on the subject.

The point about twin-tracking is important, and it is one of the factors recognised in the Green Paper as problematic. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the cost implications and procedural difficulties of twin-tracking and duplicate applications. Some people believe that an applicant may try to wear down a local authority by banging in planning applications, and one of the proposals in the Green Paper is that certain procedures should not be in place. That is one of our commitments and it would make the process

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work more in the interests of the community and appear to be less loaded in favour of the developer, who can afford to keep on making planning applications. The inherent difficulties are recognised.

I hope that I have dealt with all the— Several hon. Members rose—

Ms Keeble: I thought that I was getting away too lightly.

Mr. Hughes: I am grateful for the Minister's indulgence. I missed an earlier opportunity; my hon. Friend moved on too quickly. I spoke earlier about the costs incurred by applicants who have to appeal. If the applicant wins the appeal, I believe that the local authority should pay the costs incurred because it should have considered the application differently. Sometimes, huge amounts of money are involved.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge mentioned a decision about slates on a conservatory roof; I bet that that officer came from Doncaster, North. It is the sort of silly decision that all too often is brought to our surgeries. Will the Minister consider local authorities being made to pay for appeals if they lose?

Ms Keeble: One reason why I was rushing was that I was trying to avoid saying too much about Doncaster's planning decisions. I thought that it might not be the most sensible thing to do, because planning decisions are always taken on the merits of the case.

One of the problems with the current planning process is that many of those who make planning applications cannot afford the legal costs of challenging local authority decisions. The planning Green Paper recommends the possibility of increasing planning aid and making the system easier and simpler for all applicants, not only those who can afford the lawyers' fees.

Mr. Foster: I, too, am grateful for the Minister's indulgence. I entirely agree with her about the need to speed up planning applications. I am delighted to place on record the fact that my local authority, which does not have a brilliant track record on this matter, has made significant improvements.

The Minister referred several times to the research that was commissioned by her Department on the total aggregate cost to local authorities of dealing with planning applications compared to the fee income anticipated as a result of the regulations. Will the Minister make copies of that research available to those members of the Committee who are interested? If so, I would like to place my name on the list.

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By way of declaration, let me say that I am particularly conscious of the significant gap between the cost to local authorities and the costs that have to be borne by developers, as I recently had to go to my local authority for a planning application. A great deal of time was spent poring over my application, but it was refused on a number of occasions; it shows how diligent local authorities are. I know only too well that the cost to the local council taxpayer is more than I pay.

The Chairman: Order. That is a little wide of the order.

Ms Keeble: I cannot see any difficulty in making the research available. I am concerned that I might accidentally have misled the Committee. I think that it was done by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1992; it was not the most recent research. However, I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives at least a full brief if I cannot release it all.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about individuals not knowing how to make an application. He will see a pre-application checklist in the Green Paper, the idea being that it will allow people to know what to put in. Several of the comments made by hon. Members emphasised the importance of the recommendations in the Green Paper, so I hope that they will write to the Government supporting it and urging us to proceed as quickly as possible.

I believe that I have dealt with all the issues raised—

Richard Younger-Ross: The return of fees if an application is withdrawn is not covered in the Green Paper. Will the Minister consider a statutory instrument that states when a local authority should return fees following withdrawal of an application reasonably early in the process?

Ms Keeble: Perhaps I could write to the hon. Gentleman on that subject.

With the exception of that last point, I believe that I have covered all the queries raised. Our discussion has emphasised that whatever the fees there are some real difficulties about some of the processes. That is the reason for the planning Green Paper and I hope that the Committee will agree to the regulations because the fee increase is badly needed by local authorities and is important to allow them to deliver a good service for our constituents.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2002.

Committee rose at sixteen minutes past Five o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:

Amess, Mr. David (Chairman)
Berry, Mr.
Brazier, Mr.
Clifton-Brown, Mr.
Foster, Mr. Don
Gilroy, Linda
Grogan, Mr.
Hughes, Mr. Kevin

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Keeble, Ms
King, Andy
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Singh, Mr.
Tredinnick, Mr.
Woolas, Mr.
Younger-Ross, Richard

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