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Planning services key to growth - Kerslake

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Planning services are key to the government’s economic growth agenda and need to be maintained, local government’s senior civil servant has warned.

Speaking at the Cipfa conference this week, Sir Bob Kerslake told local government finance officers that council services which supported efforts to revitalise the economy should not be neglected.

His comments come a week after the LGA published a report warning that the costs of demand-led services like adult social care and waste disposal would mean a 90% cut in the funding available for other services such as planning, libraries and leisure services.

Sir Bob said: “Securing economic growth is the overriding priority for government. Put simply, there is growth and then there is the rest, because without economic growth, every one of our other ambitions will be incredibly difficult to deliver.”

While some drivers for economic growth could only be managed by central government, he said there was a big role for local government to support development.

As well as referencing Thursday’s city deals announcement, and hinting they could be extended to rural areas, he emphasised the importance for all councils of “maintaining key council services, especially planning, that support growth”.

Sir Bob was speaking the day after the government’s long awaited announcement that it would introduce a one-off 15% increase in planning fees, charges which have been frozen since 2008.

Local government groups which have been lobbying the government for an increase ideally wanted the setting of planning fees to be localised, but it was widely accepted the government would not go that far for fear of some councils putting fees up too high

Clyde Loakes (Lab), vice chair of the LGA’s environment and housing board, said the one-off increase due to be introduced in the Autumn would “provide some important respite to town hall budgets”. He added: “Under the current system, hard-pressed council taxpayers have been subsidising the planning fees of multi-national developers. We will continue to press for an even fairer, more transparent, localised system for planning fees which is evidence based.”

Alongside the fee increase, the government also announced:

  • A consultation on making it easier to change the specified use of a building
  • A consultation to cut unnecessary information in the application process
  • A review of the 6,000 pages of guidance on planning
  • A consultation later this year on shortening the appeals process
  • Measures to prevent councils being liable for appeal costs in certain circumstances
  • Preventing developers being charged twice under the Community Infrastructure Levy
  • Extension of funding to the bodies provide neighbourhood planning advice to communities
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