Why does pre-application advice cost so much ?

One of the many things that is great about working for PAS is the range of work we cover. Positive planning is becoming the brand in which we cover our work on DM – you can find useful stuff on pre-application, extensions of time and PPAs. We’re going to be adding more practitioner-focused guides on conditions and section 106 agreements soon.

We don’t just put stuff on the web and hope it works. We road test it in several ways, both with individual councils and also in events for groups. We held some excellent events last year to introduce our “ten principles of pre-application” and as part of those I ran a session on “How much should pre-application cost? ”

In this session I reminded the audience (most of whom I knew from various benchmarking sessions over the years) to review some of their peers charges for pre-application advice [see slides towards the end]. I had worried that this would be pretty dry biscuits for a room full of planners but it was a great success. It was startling how badly done the cost schedules were. It was impossible to try and establish the basis for the charge, and these councils had got off to a terrible start in setting out a business-like first impression.

What makes the more disappointing is that the schedules in this list were not picked because they were bad they were just on the first page of search results.

Just this week at our event for peers I explained that out in England now there are two sorts of planning authority. There are those that went on our collective voyage of discovery on the benchmark. These councils are economically literate and understand the mechanics of how to price work. But, there is no doubt in my mind that many councils are still plucking numbers out of the air or clumsily attempting to gouge the market.

Councils have discretion to set these charges under the relevant Act, but they must be genuine attempts at cost recovery. Some councils are risking a challenge individually and also risking a more general ask on planning fees more generally.

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Mersey (up) Beat on GPDO

Luis Suarez may not be seeking to extend his contract with Liverpool, but residents on Merseyside are getting on with extending their houses under the GPDO. Hats off to the planners at Liverpool City Council for trying to make things easier and for just getting on with the job.  We’re all unsure what effect the GPDO changes will have on costs and resources – you can ‘Page Down’ 40 times and still not quite reach the end of the posts on the subject on the PAS Forum* – but as usual, the real impact won’t be really known until we start experiencing it for real.

* Incidentally, the forum thread is quite impressive – some really thoughtful  debate, and a LOT more pragmatic/progressive than some of the general (if valid) speculation and hand-wringing about botched Government legislation I’ve seen elsewhere.

To follow the Mersey spirit, our planning service benchmark has been adapted so that councils can make a practical start measuring the real impact on time, resources and cost that the GPDO changes actually have on the work of planning teams.

Our benchmark is clever and records the time people spend processing different types of application. When we made the benchmark, we created a default naming system for applications – to continue a tradition started with the “Q” codes several decades ago. We’ve updated the benchmark codes (called ‘R’ codes) to reflect the new notifications in the amendment to the GPDO. This will allow us, at some future date, to be able to ask

“How many of those new householder PD prior approval things did we receive?” and even “How much did each one cost us to deal with?”.

We’ve made two new application types:

  • PD Change of Use Notifications (R085). This code is for all notifications and approvals of Change of Use following changes to GPDO 30/05/2013
  • PD Householder Notifications (R095). Notifications and approvals under Part 1 (3m-6m and 4m-8m extensions) following changes to GPDO 30/05/2013

So, instead of spending time and energy trying to predict and second-guess what impact the GPDO changes will have on your service – join the benchmark club and find out for real. Will this thing be the nightmare many are predicting? Will the increase in work doing this stuff be countered by a reduction in other work e.g. householder applications? (Which may not be a bad thing when you consider the real cost of processing a householder application is upwards of 3 times the fee you get).

Let’s buck the trend – everyone expects planners to moan – let’s take a more positive approach. Let’s back our reservations about the impact of the changes with good evidence and get on and measure the impact. Then we’ll continue the debate with a bit more ammo than ‘what-we-think-will-happen-is…’.

Planning Authority happy families

As we limber up for the next nail biter of a benchmark club (will it be finished in time ? will enough councils sign up ?) I’ve taken a little time out to think about how we could group councils.

Benchmarking works by allowing participants to choose who they want to be compared to. By and large, people seem to pick people they know (their neighbours) and don’t tend to pick far-off places even though they may actually be similar. One question I was asked quite a lot was “can you tell us who we are like ?”.

A tale of 21 families Continue reading