Category: Listed Property News
UK Heritage at risk as councils subsidise planning fess:
Leading local authorities with the largest number of listed buildings across the UK have joined forces to urge the Government to free them from fixed planning fees which cost taxpayers millions and in the current financial climate are unsustainable, putting the nation’s historic architecture at risk.
City of Westminster reports as follows:
Due to outdated rules taxpayers effectively subsidise some of the wealthiest developers in the UK as councils cannot recover their costs from handling complex planning applications.
The worst affected councils, are home to some of the country’s most historic buildings, including the UNESCO world heritage site of the Palace of Westminster in London, the birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, and northern Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral York – which has applied for world heritage site recognition. Council leaders have now called on the Communities and Local Government Minister of State, Greg Clark MP, to allow them to charge for listed building consents.
They have warned the Government that unless they’re able to set fees to recover their costs then there would have to be cuts to the important historic building maintenance service. Westminster City Council alone spends £5m a year of taxpayers’ money subsidising half of its 10,500 planning related applications which it is not allowed to charge for. Around 20 per cent of all planning applications relate to Listed Building Consent. Other applications which do not incur a fee, a further 30% of the total in Westminster, include conservation area consents and tree preservation orders.
Without the ability to charge, local taxpayers in areas with large number of listed properties will continue to pick up the bill – impacting on services already under pressure following the Comprehensive Spending Review, and putting at risk the nation’s heritage as planning departments make further cuts.
In a letter sent to Minister Greg Clark, which has also been signed by eight councils including Westminster, Stratford-upon-Avon, York, Kensington and Chelsea, Birmingham, Camden, Wiltshire, and Newcastle councils, they warn: “Listed building, conservation area and tree applications require specialist staff. With local authorities being required to make significant savings over coming months, it is important to ensure this specialism is retained if we are to avoid compromising on our heritage.”
Cllr Robert Davis, Westminster City Council’s Deputy Leader, who has led the campaign, said:”We believe that our campaign is in keeping with the government’s commitment to freeing local authorities of regulation and devolving power to a local level.
“This is essential to ensure we and many other councils across the UK are able to retain the specialist skills required to handle complex developments, which often run into tens of millions of pounds or involve some of the country’s most sensitive sites.”We’re not going cap in hand to the Government pleading for money, we are acutely aware of the financial situation. It’s only fair that the developers who also benefit from this expertise and staff time at least cover the costs.”
Under the Government’s plans to reform the planning application fee system, reform proposals look set to continue to exclude the charging fees for listed building and conservation area consents – the very areas which often require the most expertise and take the most time to handle.
The campaign has also won the support of the leading figures in the property industry, with developers also stating they are willing to pay the extra money to ensure their developments are not jeopardised by a skills shortage.
Robert Noel, Chairman of the Westminster Property Association, whose members number some of the largest developers in the UK including Land Securities, British Land, Great Portland Estates, Capital & Counties, Derwent London, Heron, Grosvenor, the Crown Estate and Shaftesbury, said: “Effective and efficient planning policy and development management is vital to London’s sustainability as the global exemplar. Landowners, developers and homeowners, including those with listed buildings, who wish to carry out developments or alterations to their buildings should pay for the cost of running these departments. In return, local authorities should be under a clear duty to run efficient and properly resourced departments.”
The club’s view:
This story has been rumbling on for a week or two now and has prompted a few letters in the Times.
It is driven mainly by Westminster Council who think that developers should pay for meetings with Council officials regarding listed buildings in the same way that they do for all other development enquiries. They say it could save the rate payer money by covering the Council’s costs.
Most Councils across the country have been charging for pre application meetings on non listed buildings for some time now. Most however exclude householder enquiries from their charges. Many developers are happy to pay a fee because it guarantees them a level of service which may not be guaranteed in other circumstances.
My understanding is that the legislation which allows Councils to charge for their planning advice does not extend to listed buildings so new primary legislation would be required in order to implement any such change. Given the big players who appear to be pressing for change this is not out of the question but it would take a fair amount of time.
There are many pro’s and cons which I could go into if you want to make this into an article but on balance it has to be a bad thing for listed building owners. Club members will of course continue to get free advice from the LPOC!
We also requested the opinion of a conservation officer who said the following:
This is certainly a ‘hot topic’ as I am also having to address the issue here at my own authority and I know others are doing the same.
I am personally very strongly against the idea of across the board charging for LBC or other conservation related applications. I think there is enough of a burden on owners already with higher costs of repair and upkeep, and charging for applications (and possible pre-application advice) would be one more thing to put people off buying listed buildings or maintaining them, now that benefits like grant aid are almost non-existent in most areas. It is hard enough for us to sell the idea of living in a listed building to some people who are scared of the costs, but up till now we have been able to say ‘at least there is no charge for advice or applications’. The end result may even be more listed buildings being left empty because people are put off buying them.
Also, and just as importantly, the free consent system encourages owners to actually engage with the LA and make applications, which then gives us the necessary control over works. If people have to pay then they are more likely to just go ahead and do work without without getting consent. This can often lead to enforcement/prosecution having to be carried out by the LA, which in itself takes up more officer time and financial resources when we have to serve notices or deal with appeals. This additional financial burden on officer time and resources is not being brought into the equation as far as I can see.
If I am pushed into a corner and told that some form of charging has to happen then there are a few areas that might be more reasonable.
If an application is being made for LBC by a commercial concern, rather than private householders, then a charge (half that of a planning permission?) might be justified. It might also be possible to try to establish a system whereby the financial gain from approved work is assessed and a charge made if the applicant clearly benefits (although this would be a nightmare to organise). Some work for which consent is required is purely because it is a listed building e.g. reroofing with a new tile, changing cement render to lime, inserting a new boiler flue etc, whereas other work, such as adding a new kitchen extension, is purely for the benefit of the applicant and will add substantially to the value of the property. Morally, I think a charge is more justified if the applicant is the benefactor, rather than the building.
A simpler scheme to run might be that a charge is made if the work also involves an accompanying planning permission application (e.g. most extensions) but not if it is a stand alone LBC application (e.g. internal works).
Despite these possible permutations I will continue to try to argue against any form of charge in my area, although I appreciate the problems experienced by authorities like Westminster where they get huge numbers of LBC applications and no fees. We don’t have the same problems and the number of free LBC applications we deal with is not too onerous.
We’d be very interested to hear members reactions to these proposals with a view to LPOC approaching Greg Clark with the owners views. Please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01795 844939