Town and Country Planning Regulations 2023 Committee

I was a member of the Draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 Delegated Legislation Committee on Wednesday, 25 October 2023. I asked for clarification on how many responses the Government received to their consultation, as a percentage?”

Rachel Maclean MP, the Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities responded by saying: “I thank the right hon. Member for that point. I will have to write to her about that, if she will allow me.

I followed this up by asking: “I have two points to make. First, I would like the percentage of the number of consultations that were returned—was it 1% or 100%? Secondly, how will the Government monitor whether local authorities are actually using the fees for the purposes intended?”

This intervention was followed by a back-and-forth with the Minister:

“The civil servants have helpfully given the answer that there were 495 responses to the consultation. What was the percentage of returns? Was that a 1% return of the total number of people who were consulted, or was it 100%? Is it 495 of 495? What is the percentage?”

There are two separate points. The point about the consultation is that there were 495 responses, but how many people were consulted? What is the percentage—was it a 1% return or a 50% return? On a separate point, the Minister helpfully said that local authorities have to spend the fees on planning and planning officers. How will the Government monitor whether they are doing that? The intention and the direction are there, but how can the public—my constituents—be reassured that that money will not be used for other purposes?”

The Minister said: I will respond to the right hon. Lady’s second point, as I understand that question very clearly. I think it is better if I write to her on the first question. My understanding is that there were 495 responses, but I do not know how many people were actually asked. I think she is asking for a response rate—” I indicated my agreement, to which the Minister followed up by saying: 

“We may be able to provide a further breakdown and further detail on those responses, and what they were in favour of and against. I am sure we can provide that information to the right hon. Lady and any other Committee member who is understandably interested in that.

“The point about planning performance is really important. It is feedback I always hear from industry and householders, as my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich has mentioned. Planning performance is an issue that is raised time and again. My overall conclusion and response is that when people are applying for these services, although they expect to get a good service, they have not always had that, which has led to overall dissatisfaction with the system. It also has a knock-on effect on the public’s confidence in the planning system more generally, which leads to a lot of the other issues that we see time and again. I am sure all Members have messages in their inbox about these sorts of issues, which are common across the country.

“We recognise that the current metrics on planning performance, including the use of extensions of time, do not adequately reflect the performance of local authorities. We recognise that they do not capture the consumer experience either. We have therefore recently consulted on proposals to measure performance across a broader set of quantitative and qualitative measures, providing greater transparency of service delivery and enabling early action where local authorities are not performing. We will come forward with further details on those measures in due course.

“Separately to that, my Department and civil servants in the relevant team have very granular information on local authorities’ performance in this area—as well as a number of other areas, of course—on which they regularly report to me. On that basis, other Ministers and I are Toggle showing location ofColumn 10able, where necessary, to exercise our functions and powers to intervene and to remove planning powers from local authorities, although we obviously only want to do that as a last resort. However, we do expect local authorities to be providing these services to their residents, which we monitor.”