Mid Suffolk council was warned that its charges to developers, approved a year ago, for advice before submission of planning applications would lead to a “presumption of delivery”.
Andrew Stringer, the Green Party leader on the council, made that comment and continues to believe it is true. The charging policy was approved by the council’s cabinet by eight votes to two.
Until the fees were introduced, advice from planning officers was free. While most people are still not aware of the fees, I constantly hear people complaining that the planners are “in the pockets of big developers” and that individuals and communities are not listened to.
Fees are difficult to calculate but a “viability assessment” for a scheme of between 50 and 200 houses costs £4,200. That is only available if other services have been bought. Larger schemes are not mentioned so presumably they are negotiated.
An assessment by the council identified as “probable” the risk that the paid advice given by planning officers would be overturned by members in a committee meeting.
This danger was to be mitigated by member training to “highlight and discuss the importance of consistency in the evaluation and weighing planning policies and material considerations”.
If I were a councillor elected by the people to represent a community, that would sound sinister to me.
It is difficult to establish income from pre-submission advice but it is clearly substantial. This year the council is budgeting that the Growth and Sustainable Planning section will have an income of £1,320,000 which is £157,000 more than expenditure. Planning application fees increased by 20% in January which will also have had a substantial effect on income.
Taking all areas of planning together fee income has risen rapidly. In 2016/17 it was £712,000 (of which £250,00 was related to Soasis), in 2017/18 it was £1,470,000 and this year is budgeted for £1,623,000.
Planning income accounts for nearly a fifth of the council’s services income, exceeded only by waste services.