Blog: Industry deflated over increase in planning fees

Theresa Hunt
Theresa Hunt

Burness Paull’s senior associate Theresa Hunt believes the construction industry will be disappointed with the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce increased planning fees.

The Scottish Government has announced a significant increase in planning fees that will come into effect from 1 June 2017.

Following a short consultation and only one week before the local elections, the announcement has received a mixed response from industry. It will likely see developers attempt to progress proposals to application stage as soon as possible but opportunities for major schemes to do this will be limited given the constraints of the three month pre-application consultation process.

The top fee for detailed applications is being raised from approximately £20,000 to £125,000 and for planning permission in principle from approximately £10,000 to £62,000.

There had been a recognition within the development industry that a substantial rise in planning fees was likely. However, the responses to the Scottish Government’s consultation make it clear that there was also an expectation that any increase in fees would be accompanied by measures to secure an improvement in performance from planning authorities.

Recognising this concern, the planning minister has said that the rise in fees is part of a two-stage process, and that he will be convening a High Level Group review on planning performance later this year. Notwithstanding, there will undoubtedly be disappointment that legislation has already been introduced increasing fees, without any detail or commitment as to how performance improvements will be secured.

Suggestions to ensure increased fees led to improved performance have included the ring-fencing of application fees so these could be reinvested in planning services and were not simply used to cross subsidise other services, linking the ability to charge increased fees to performance, and removing certain planning functions from authorities who failed to perform.

Whilst the increase in costs is still well below those in England, there are already concerns that the performance of the planning system is a disincentive to those considering investing in Scotland. Therefore it is critical that the Scottish Government does not simply allow planning authorities to ratchet up fees without any improvement in performance.

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