The government is set to review the community infrastructure levy and is considering making changes to planning fees as part of the spending review, a senior civil servant has revealed.
Michael Bingham, deputy head of development for plans and performance at the Department for Communities and Local Government, has told local planning authorities and private developers to “watch this space” for further announcements.
There is evidence of growing discontent among councils and companies about CiL, a non-mandatory charge per square metre of floorspace which is meant to help pay for the infrastructure needed to support new development which meets certain criteria, such as the size of the development.
Speaking at the launch of the fourth annual planning survey from the British Property Federation and property and planning consultants GL Hearn this morning, Camden LBC’s director of culture and environment Ed Watson called CiL a “good idea badly implemented”.
The planning survey itself found 57% of respondents thought CiL should be kept but changed, while 29% thought it should be abandoned altogether. Just 14% said the policy should be kept exactly as it is. The survey received responses from 30 planning authorities and 251 applicants.
Writing for LGC in July, West Lindsey DC’s chief executive Manjeet Gill, who is also deputy housing lead for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, said receipts from CiL contributions only funded infrastructure for about 7% of the housing and economic growth in her county of Lincolnshire.
And this week Clive Betts (Lab), chair of the communities and local government committee, called CiL a “tax on development” which had failed to help tackle the housing crisis.
Speaking at the planning survey launch in central London, Mr Bingham acknowledged there had been “criticism in some quarters” about CiL and told attendees that the policy “possibly” needed reform.
“There may well be changes that need to be made that could be beneficial, particularly around the relationship between CiL and section 106 agreements,” said Mr Bingham. “We are going to review the way that CiL is being implemented so watch this space for further announcements on that.”
The planning survey found under-resourcing of planning departments to be a significant issue – more than half (55%) of councils thought a lack of funding of their departments would present a significant challenge to achieving their aims over the next year.
Mr Bingham said resourcing local planning authorities was an “important part” of the upcoming spending review, due on 25 November, but reinforced calls from housing minister Brandon Lewis that councils should do more to look at whether they could share services or bring in private sector help.
The District Councils’ Network has called for councils to be able to set local planning fees, a proposal communities secretary Greg Clark said he had looked at “with interest” when he spoke at a DCN event at the Local Government Association’s annual conference in July.
Mr Bingham said there could be changes to planning applications fees but added the government was “very clear” applicants “shouldn’t be expected to sign a blank cheque for planning services”.
“One of the most consistent messages we get is that any changes to fees should be linked in some way to performance,” he said. “That’s very much part of the spending review.”
Meanwhile, LGC reported last week how one hundred communities in England have adopted Neighbourhood Plans which are documents, written by communities, that set out planning policies for an area.
Mr Bingham said that showed there was “real momentum” behind the plans, although the planning survey found 53% of respondents thought the policy should be changed while 34% said it should be scrapped.
Mr Bingham said: “It doesn’t mean to say the process is perfect, far from it, and we do think there are some changes that can be made to improve the experience for all users of the system. But we do think it’s a key part of the planning process and it’s not going to go away.”