County planning authorities

For years we have had our sleeves rolled up, poking about in the innards of planning authorities to see what sort of things they do. We’ve learned that planning is an extremely varied business, although it is also the case that 80% of the work is predictable, pretty straightforward stuff. There is also just loads of weird and wonderful work appearing in strange nooks and crevices – some of which don’t even fall under the Planning Act. It’s just a basic thing we need to do – to help councils name and number the work, so they can understand how to organise for it.

Anyway, several times over the years we have tried to do the same work for counties. I can’t explain entirely but it’s never felt like we did a particularly good job of it. In part we’re battling with some pretty fundamental things – in Districts there are big piles of similar things. In counties there are small numbers of very disparate things. In Districts there are fairly simple one-off transactions. In counties projects (schools, landfills, quarries) live on for decades and as they develop the consent needs to routinely be amended.

We went to see a small bunch of counties recently, and over a day went through their applications and their resources. What I’ll share here is an aggregated position*, but I learned alot about county matter applications. Perhaps you’ll find it interesting too. Note though that we didn’t touch on policy – too difficult for session 1 !

Monitoring and enforcement

Counties do quite a bit of monitoring. Sometimes it is a contractual arrangement (eg to check that an old landfill isn’t doing something nasty) at other times it is in response to a complaint.

They also need to do quite a bit of enforcement (and in my group without much success generating compensation yet).  Poking about this looks to be mostly waste and recycling activities, with a little bit of vehicle movements / site licensing issues.


There is a very close correlation between income and costs for the contractual stuff. Overall the cost to the council is about £90k per year (about two people), of which £23k is recovered from site owners. Anecdotally this service is being reduced quite quickly.


Pre-application as an activity in counties is very marginal. We thought it was under-recorded. The anecdote is that most service users are very anti- paying a charge, which is in contrast to the extremely valuable assets represented by many minerals and waste sites.

There were no (or very few) planning performance agreements.

Planning applications (resources)

We asked the counties to group their costs around some standard headings based on headcount, along with some estimates of routine spend on legal and consultancy.

It was marked how large the gap is between costs and income – far greater in counties than districts. Without some movement on fees for counties it is difficult to see how this can continue. Despite the opposition of many users to paying more for services, without an injection of cash from users services will stall as collateral damage from the Counties’ financial settlement.

Planning applications (caseload)

The most common type of planning application is known as a Section 73 application, for development on land owned by the council. These are usually for schools – both new ones and for alterations to existing ones.

We split them between major and minor cases (based on fee as a proxy). The average county receives about 107 cases per year – we didn’t bother turning this into a caseload per officer as the cases are so dissimilar it doesn’t mean very much.




* Counties are dissimilar to each other, so I’m not sure it is helpful to think of this as the “typical county”. I’m open to alternative ideas.


2 thoughts on “County planning authorities

  1. [notes from someone helpful]
    I’ve just read through the bit you’ve (presumably) done on County Planning work which is generally good but a few corrections/suggestions –

    – Monitoring – it’s not a ‘contractual arrangement’ when we get fees (for minerals sites/landfills), it’s statutorily required and we can charge, under the Fee Regs, for up to 8 monitoring visits/year. This is also on slide 2 – you refer to a ‘paid arrangement’. If it’s targeted at Counties it’s probably as easy to say ‘fees monitoring’ and ‘non-fees monitoring’ as we all know what it means. If not, just ‘monitoring (paid)’ and ‘monitoring (unpaid)’ (as per the spreadsheet below).

    – Pre-app – it might help to clarify that ‘service users’ can be against paying a charge because much of it is in-house, in relation to the County Council’s own development (Regulation 3s). This is also on slide 3 – it’s not that we’re particularly helpful, it’s that much of it is in-house.

    – Slide 4 – fees: it may help to note here that because 20% of our applications are S73s (because minerals and waste sites exist for long periods of time, typically resulting in amendment rather than full applications), our fee income’s reduced.

    – The bottom heading re. ‘Planning applications (caseload)’ refers to our most common type of planning application being a S73 which is an amendment application, whereas I think you meant a Regulation 3 (the County’s own development).

    – Our resources are also affected by the need to advertise every minerals and waste application because they are all ‘major’.

  2. There was no mention in your note, about Mineral Safeguarding Areas or the County Council’s responsibilities set out in the NPPF para 142 to 149 and the Planning Practice Guidance on minerals. No mention of the interaction between Local Planning Departments and County Councils, when a proposal for non-mineral development is put forward in a Mineral Safeguarding Areas . As the Mineral Planning Authority- the County Council has a statutory duty to ensure that local plans in their area, take account of land designated as Mineral Safeguarding Areas and policies identify the need to consult the Mineral Planning Authority.

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