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Housing minister backs freedom to set planning fees and joint local plans

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Local authorities are likely to be given powers to set planning fees locally, housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell has hinted.

However, Mr Barwell warned councils are not going to be allowed to charge what they want and added the powers would be linked to a local authority’s planning performance across a range of measures.

The policy was first mooted by former communities secretary Greg Clark at the beginning of the year.

Speaking at a fringe event yesterday Mr Barwell said: “I don’t think we’re going to move to a model where we just let councils charge what they want but we are sympathetic that there is a problem.”

Mr Barwell said he had “a degree of sympathy” with councils which were struggling to retain planning officers.

He said he had spoken to developers who had told him they would “happily” pay a bit more as long as they received a “premium” planning service in return.

Mr Barwell said: “My bottom line, were I to decide to do something on this, is that I’d want an assurance from councils that do this that every single penny that they raise in extra fees would be spent on their planning departments.”

He went on to add the ability to set planning fees was likely to be linked to performance. Currently the Department for Communities & Local Government only assesses councils’ performance on dealing with major planning applications.

However, Mr Barwell said: “I’m interested in minor applications, how quickly section 106 [agreements] get done – [I] want to look at overall performance across the planning system.”

Communities secretary Sajid Javid was quoted in the Financial Times on Saturday saying he would “be very tough” on councils which fail to produce a local plan by early 2017.

However, Mr Barwell said he was “less bothered about every individual council having its own local plan” and added he would be willing to accept strategic plans drawn up by a number of local authorities instead.

“I’m relatively relaxed about what level they are done at so if two or three districts wanted to come together and do one, or however you want to do it, that’s fine,” said Mr Barwell. “But we do need to have the plans in place.”

Later he warned that if a council “refuses” to produce a plan the government would intervene.

“I don’t want to do it but someone is going to have to produce it,” said Mr Barwell.

Meanwhile, Mr Barwell thought there could be “more flexibility” available to councils and housing associations to fund the construction of different types of homes, including homes built for sale, for private rent, and “affordable rented accommodation”.

He said there was “no silver bullet” to tackling the housing crisis and added “bespoke intervention” was needed in different areas to tackle the barriers to building the homes the country needed.

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