The Growth and Infrastructure Bill (out today) sets out a bundle of new things for us to get our heads around over the next few days. The thing that jumps out at me are the consequences of becoming designated under section 62A.
It’s always a danger to speed-read regulations, but this is how it looks to me:
– a council becomes designated (we’ll probably end up calling it a “standards” authority again)
– applicants can choose to apply directly to the secretary of state. Probably a balance of risks consideration. After all the council is slow, but they’ll lose the right of appeal. The class of applications is yet to be prescribed but the sporting money is on Majors.
– the secretary of state collects the fee (see tail-end of Schedule 1)
– the secretary of state can direct the council to carry out some work (clause 6). It’s not set out, but feels like issuing and compiling consultations.
Many others will, I’m sure, want to address the issue that this measure bypasses the Local Planning Authority (clue is in the name). For me, this feels like an extremely serious sanction indeed. In previous years, the ‘standards’ designation meant a loss of some PDG and some hassle. You could survive and bounce back. Let’s set out how grim this new version of designation could be.
We know from the work we did modelling fees last year that the majors are the only category that councils can process and recover their costs. In round numbers, let’s say a planning authority takes £2m of fees and spends £3m. The tax payers contribute £1m to balance the books.
Let’s model the impact of standards if all the applications were to go to PINS (this is a deliberately downbeat assessment):
- Loss of majors income : £0.5m
- Loss of majors costs : £0.4m
- Pass-back of consultation work etc from PINS : £0.1m
- Impact on financial position:
- Income = £2m – £0.5m = £1.5m
- Costs = £3m – £0.4m + £0.1m = £2.7m
- Tax payers contribute £1.2m to balance the books.
So, back of fag packet using semi-real numbers says the impact of standards is that costs increase by 20%. Moreover, it could lead to:
- Higher cost of department exacerbated with less work going through it – overheads could also increase per head
- Loss of the most interesting work
- Difficult to see how you break out of a downward spiral
Apologies for the slightly alarmist tone. But this feels very serious for the health of planning departments. Pay attention to your handling times. Monitor your success rates at appeal. Do not get caught up in this.