Charging for Listed Building Consent pre-application advice


RN 2015/3, Jan 2015


This is one of a series of occasional IHBC Research Notes published by The Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC).
IHBC Research Notes offer current and recent research into topics that we consider crucial to the promotion of good built and historic environment conservation policy and practice. The Notes necessarily reflect knowledge and practice at the time they were developed, while the IHBC always welcomes new case examples, feedback and comment to
research@ihbc.org.uk for future revisions and updates.


Executive Summary

1. Charging for Listed Building Consent [LBC] pre-application advice is far from universal but the extent and range of charging practices of local planning authorities in England appear not to have been comprehensively examined until now. The fee categories and structures of all English local planning authorities have recently been analysed via their publicly accessible web pages in an attempt to provide better understanding of current practice.

2. Although charging for pre-application planning advice is now widespread, only about one-third of councils in England charge for pre-application listed building advice.  This varies considerably in the range and complexity of the advice offered and who in the authority supplies it.

3. While a frequently stated aim is to cover at least part of the operational costs of heritage related development management; in practice in many instances it seems highly unlikely that the fees levied will provide anything more than a nominal contribution relative to the number of listed building entries on the authority’s statutory list [1] and the number of listed building consent applications in a year that might reasonably be expected to be submitted as a result of pre-application advice.

4. Typical levels of charging do not appear likely to contribute significantly to offsetting the expenditure on other parts of what should amount to a well-rounded heritage management service, including workload items such as the appraisal and management of conservation areas or the checking of compliance and quality assurance for completed schemes.

5. As authorities rarely define the costs of a balanced service - beyond standard establishment costs – in advance of the introduction of pre-application charging; assumptions concerning potentially increased income derived from such fees for advice on listed buildings is rarely based on a reliable baseline from which the effectiveness of the charges can be assessed.


Introduction


6. The principle and practice of charging for pre-application advice on proposals affecting listed buildings varies widely. For some heritage management professionals in local government the principle is anathema given the acknowledged burden already placed upon private individuals in particular applicants as custodians of much of the nation’s heritage, as it is they who face additional financial and regulatory burdens above and beyond those of other ‘ordinary’ owners and occupiers.

7. A countervailing view advanced by other professionals, service managers and councillors is that charging for pre-application heritage advice is a natural extension of the existing regime applied to planning proposals. Furthermore the continuing pressure on local government finance and the objective of covering (at least in part) the operational costs of providing professional planning-related advice has already seen either the wide introduction of charging or a curtailment of specialist conservation services or both. Consequently there is now a growing expectation that many of the professional services within local government that were once freely available on demand will now need to be rationed and/or can no longer be expected to be provided free of charge.

8. Charging for pre-application advice is usually seen within the context of the administration of the planning service as a whole. It is rarely seen within the context of what might generally be considered a balanced good practice service across a range of specialist conservation functions. [2]

9. The development management system is predicated on short-term goals related to speed of the delivery rather than the wider, longer-term community benefits to the local historic environment such as conservation area characterisation and management or the satisfactory resolution of heritage at risk issues. Valuable heritage management tasks such as these require the consistent application of scarce resources over the long-term to be successful and do not generate fee income.


2014 survey and methodology


10. Potential applicants and the general public should have a reasonable expectation that information on the availability and cost of a council’s listed building consent pre-application advice should be easily accessible (either from the home page or via a general search box). 

11. This Research Note looks at the principles and current practices of charging for this advice based on an evaluation of the content of all 335 English local planning authority web pages. This was undertaken in November 2014 and accessed under the search term ‘pre-application (planning) advice’.

12. In a majority of cases, the location of the relevant information relating to a council’s charging regime was easy and clearly located - usually prominently identified on the planning home page or via an obviously marked tab or link to a subsidiary page.

13. For a minority of councils, information about fees for pre-application advice required a more intensive search via, for example, a less obvious highlighted link phrase within text explaining the policy on the matter. In some instances charges could only be found circuitously by the downloading a separate document such as a pre-enquiry application form. This much less obvious or convenient solution for inexperienced or one-off users was used by a number of authorities.

14. Searching the web-content of five local planning authorities (Great Yarmouth BC; Manchester CC; Warwick DC; Wigan MBC and Wolverhampton CC) failed to produce any specific detail concerning pre-application advice despite a thorough search on two separate occasions and several variations of the search term. In one instance, Stafford Borough Council, the web content stated that the authority was ‘Unable to answer any pre-application enquiries until further notice’.

15. Web search functions for a number of authorities unhelpfully defaulted automatically to a search of the entire Council website. An attempt to locate ‘pre-application advice’ on the Wolverhampton CC site for example, returned 1,755 results running to 176 pages, none of which produced the desired information.

16. Two local authority websites were seriously out of date when accessed in mid-November 2014. In the case of North Tyneside Council it was stated that a charge was (yet) to be introduced on 1st August 2011. In the case of Poole BC, the website stated ‘From early 2008, the LPA will be offering more formal pre-application advice (…) A fee will be chargeable for this service’.

17. Failure by councils to keep web content and charging tariffs up to date was also noticeable. Several local authorities, for example, appeared not to have reviewed of revised their overall pre-application charges for some years. In the case of Mid Sussex DC these had last been set on 1st April 2009 and for South Oxfordshire DC on 1st April 2011; but this may be because an interim check had concluded that fees did not need to be amended.

18. It was also noticeable that although Conservation Area Consent had been abolished on 1st October 2013, some local authority web pages were still continuing to display a charge for pre-application advice in November 2014. (See Fees for Conservation Area Consent, paragraph 68 below).

19. Although it is possible that web pages may have been updated since mid-November 2014, the eight authorities identified above have been excluded and the data for the purposes of this Research Note, which is therefore based on content from 327 English authorities.


Regulatory background to charging for advice


20. A discretionary power to charge for pre-application advice was given to local planning authorities in the Local Government Act 2003 (S.93 Part 8, Chapter 1- Power to Charge for Discretionary Services) although this was not an obligation and the income raised was not to exceed the cost of providing the service.

21. Westminster City Council was the first to introduce charging for advice on planning applications in 2004 and eventually a majority of local authorities now charge for pre-application planning advice but not necessarily in relation to listed buildings.

22. Research by the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) [3] in 2007 concluded that to charging on pre-application advice for planning proposals:

  • improved delivery of what is an essential but time consuming service and helped ensure a better quality of submissions;
  • helped filter out speculative and poorly considered proposals;
  • had to be easily understood and administered;
  • has been accepted in principle by developers because of assured and timely access to planning service/staff would conclude with carefully considered and constructive written advice;
  • certain categories of development could be exempt e.g.  householders and (in most cases) small business premises. [4]

23. There was a recognition however, that charging might discourage development; risk harming good working relationships with local agents; and lead to more unauthorised works and by extension a greater enforcement workload, but not that in the case of listed buildings more offences might be generated. The PAS research also pre-dated the significant cutback in local authority professional expertise, particularly with regard to heritage and enforcement services.

24. The Killian Pretty Review (November 2008) noted the need to improve this ‘critically important’ stage in the development process and suggested ways to standardise it including that ‘appropriate professional bodies and stakeholders should develop guidance on charging to introduce a more measured and consistent approach’. [5]

25. While central government has continued to insist that pre-application discussions are of critically and beneficially important to both developers and local planning authorities - by ensuring a better mutual understanding of objectives and constraints - the consequences of the costs for listed building proposals have never received serious consideration, notwithstanding that in many cases these might be one-off occurrences.

26. Local planning authorities were encouraged to publish a statement or Code of Good Practice clearly setting out the range of guidance and opportunities that pre-application advice would offer; [6] what potential applicants could expect and what information they would be required to provide; and details of what would be delivered through a charging regime.

27. None of these reviews specifically addressed the question of the expertise required to determine how the special regard would be interpreted to ensure appropriate protection was secured; the significance of advice in determining listed building applications, or the relationship between planning advice and specialist conservation advice.

28. Charging become increasingly necessary where local authorities were being overloaded by requests from speculative developers who were using them, in effect, as a free consultancy service.  Charging was intended to make the negotiations more business-like.

29. The Killian Pretty Review envisaged the introduction of a specific, nationally prescribed fee scale, for example, related to the size and complexity of the proposals under discussion but in practice authorities set their own levels of charging for pre-application discussions, which inevitably varied widely from one authority to another.

30. Despite the effects of the recession in the late 2000s, and a squeeze on local authority spending, the government determined that pre application charging should continue to support the cost of delivering local authority services, notwithstanding the argument that charging was as an additional burden on applicants and developers.

31. For some applicants, timely, responsive, constructive and reliable advice is of particular importance as it often saves significant resources in needlessly pursuing unacceptable schemes or modifying proposals once these have been submitted.

32. Local authorities value the pre-application stage because:

  • Applicants have an opportunity to modify proposals prior to application thus expediting formal consideration and a decision;
  • Time spent by professional officers may be reduced;
  • Assessment of proposals against national and local policy and guidance and other material considerations may be beneficial;
  • The potential interaction with other regulatory regimes such as Building Regulations can be identified;
  • Advice on meeting prior community consultation requirements can be offered;
  • An early indication of acceptability can be given or if not acceptable,  saving the cost of finalising the scheme and submitting an application;
  • Avoiding delays in validation and decision by ensure an application is compete; [7]
  • Imposition of some planning conditions may be avoided with concomitant efficiencies regarding the exercise of compliance, quality assurance and enforcement.

33. In addition to being able to explain the relevant policies and heritage requirements; advising on estimated timescales to process any applications; the information required in order to validate an application; and where relevant, best practice methods for public consultation methods; Local authorities have advanced the following benefits as a result of introducing charges:

  • The customer pays for the service not the general tax payer;
  • Income can fund improvements to the planning service;
  • Income can reduce the call on council tax or built into overall budget savings.
  • Income generated can help offset the costs associated with design advice from local or sub-regional conservation and/or design review panels.
  • Schemes the subject of pre-application advice gain a quicker formal decision, benefiting both sides. [8]

34. Although many authorities have introduced pre-application charging, these benefits are not manifestly self-evident with regard to heritage services.

35. Local authorities cite pre-application discussions and the resulting advice given prior to the submission of a formal LBC application leading to distinct improvements in the quality of advice provided although some agents dispute this, particularly where the advice is claimed to be inaccurate, or not authoritative. Nevertheless the process should enable applicants to gain a clearer understanding of the authority’s requirements with the consequent benefits demonstrated in a prompt validation process and speed of processing to a determination, particularly for complex schemes.


Concerns relating to charging for heritage applications


36. A decade has elapsed since Westminster CC first introduced discretionary fees and while the recollection of the initial resentment (beyond the development industry) to charging for the making of planning applications has long since faded, a persistent concern has remained that charging for LBC pre-application advice would be a deterrent to good conservation and that the number of enquiries for specialist advice would be likely to fall or be limited compared with the management of change to historic buildings where there is no fee.

37. Where charging was introduced it has not been possible to determine to what extent authorities recorded the number of pre-application enquiries before and after the introduction of fees as a basis for assessing the success or otherwise of the new regime (or to rescind charging where the results appeared to be detrimental to good heritage management), but the basis for a menu of charges seems in many cases to be arbitrary.

38. Fees for LBC pre-application advice are commonly grouped with minor developments requiring planning permission along with, for example, new housing schemes of up to 9 dwellings; changes of use and advertisement consent.   


The extent and form of the practice of charging


39. In England, the practice of charging (or not) for pre-application advice varies significantly and falls into three broad categories.
          


Authorities who explicitly exclude listed building (and either explicitly or by association, conservation area) proposals from a pre-application charging schedule of fees.

94

28.7%

Authorities where the fee structure of charging for pre-application advice on the authority web pages makes no explicit reference to proposals relating to listed buildings (or associated conservation areas works).

120

36.7%

Authorities that include a specific fee for pre-application advice related to listed buildings and or conservation area proposals in a charging schedule.

113

34.6%

40. A number of authorities, but by no means all, make it explicit in their web content that the exemption of charging for LBC pre-application advice does not preclude the levying of a separate charge where it is accompanied by a planning application.


Exempt or free advice

41. Simple advice that can be addressed promptly with the minimum of research such as whether listed building consent may be required is often given free of charge by conservation specialists because it is administratively least complicated and fosters good relations locally with owners and occupiers. Authorities that have accomplished easy access to efficient IT systems, digitized photographic records and statutory lists etc, find this greatly facilitates expeditious responses.

42. Free advice set out on local authority web based content is often offered without charge or is specifically exempt for the relatively uncommon sorts of proposals affecting for example:

  • parish councils;
  • housing associations/social housing;
  • direct beneficial to registered disabled persons;
  • advice to third parties affected by development proposals;
  • applications required following the removal of permitted development rights by planning condition or Article 4 Direction;
  • schemes primarily involving repair (including urgent structural works; [9]
  • churches in use where works needing planning permission are not covered by the Ecclesiastical Exemption. [10]

43. Of the local authorities that specifically do not charge for LBC pre-application advice, or make no reference to this in their web content, 35% have list entries running to four-figures. This includes for example Birmingham CC (1,489 list entries) - the largest metropolitan authority in England outside London - and Kirklees MBC (3,014); unitary authorities such as Shropshire (6,884) and Herefordshire (5,888); and district authorities such as Stroud (3,374) and West Oxfordshire (3,192). 44. Unsurprisingly authorities with list entries in double figures also do not charge: the London Boroughs of Barking (47) and Brent (84); Southend-on-Sea Council, unitary authority (99); and Castle Point (34) and Rushmore (94) District Councils.

45. A number of authorities also offer the free services of a Duty Officer on one or more days of the week (or parts of the day) at their offices or other public buildings such as a local library in order to provide simple advice such as whether proposals need consent etc). This appears to be more common practice in rural districts and is sometimes specifically confined to householders. This is also reflected in a commonplace exemption from the general tariff of pre-application charges.


A structure to charging
[11]

46. It might be reasonable to expect that where a regime for LBC pre-application advice is under consideration or has recently been introduced it would be structured in a clear, simple and logical manner with fees for:

  • a written response either to a communication from the user or in conjunction with a meeting (either office based or on site, or both);
  • an allowance for additional meetings if necessary (again either office based or on site); and,
  • a fee structure to distinguish where necessary the complexity of proposals  by differentiation between, for example domestic (householder) and other building types.
  • based on a reasoned assessment of the amount of recoverable officer time necessary to evaluate and confirm the nature of the issues identified.

Advice in written form only
47. A solely written LBC pre-application response is provided by 18% of English local authorities.  The fees charged by some London Boroughs are significantly higher than elsewhere in England and range from £240 to £3,504; although six London Boroughs offer free written advice, but charge for subsequent meetings (see below).

48. Outside London, several shire districts charge as little as £25 for a written response, but the majority of fees fall within the £100 to £200 range, with the average being about £120. This might reasonably reflect the officer time involved. Fourteen authorities also split LBC Pre-application advice fees for written advice regarding non-domestic proposals from domestic/householder proposals where there is (sometimes) a significantly lower tariff for the latter.


Separate fees for written advice and meetings

49. About 45% of local planning authorities quote a separate fee for written responses and meetings.  For the majority this specifically covers an office meeting (and an associated written confirmation) but a minority of councils charge for a meeting on site instead rather as a third option (see paragraph 54 below). As noted above some, London Boroughs offer free written advice but charge for site visits and also as noted above, the charges in London Boroughs for meetings averages £743.

50. Outside London, shire districts may charge as little as £35 to £45 for a meeting/site meeting (usually specified as of one hour duration) but on the whole fees for meetings are between one-third and half as expensive again as a written responses alone where the authority is not providing free initial written advice. There are exceptions to this such as at East Staffordshire where the fee for written advice is £110 but the fee for an office meeting is only £37.

51. Most fees for meetings fall within the £70 to £250 range, with the average being set at about £186 but there appears to be no obvious correlation between the size of the fee and the number of list entries within the council’s area.

52. Five shire district authorities charge for office meetings based on an hourly rate rather than a fixed fee, with two of the councils charging separate fees for non-domestic and domestic/householder proposals. The average charge per hour (based on this small sample of authorities) is £200 per hour for the former and £70 per hour for the latter.


Charging for meetings only

53. Authorities that only charge for meetings falls into the second highest category (20%) and is particularly notable in London, with Haringay, Hounslow, Newham, Richmond on Thames and Tower Hamlets Borough Councils all adopting this approach. Generally these are office meetings (but not always) and not all of the authorities that charge for meetings make explicit whether the fee includes a follow-up confirmation of the discussions.


Charging for site visits only

54. There is a professional view that exemplary standards of pre-application advice are often best delivered on site and charging only for site meetings (thus also deflecting requests for detailed written advice). While site meetings often find favour with clients for convenience sake and with the advantage of being on ‘home-territory’; and especially where travel to the council’s offices would otherwise be involved; this takes up more valuable officer time (especially if travel time to site is extended and included in the fee) and may generate only modest fee income.  Ashford BC is the only authority that appears to exclude travel time to site and adds the cost to the site visit fee.

55. In practice only four English local planning authorities: Dartmoor NPA; Stratford on Avon DC; West Dorset DC; West Lancashire DC and West Somerset DC charge for site visits alone. Fees range from £75 to £180 - with £120 the most common.


A separate charge for everything

56. This category covers those authorities that charge separate fees for written responses, office meetings and site visits. Just over 10% of authorities operate on this basis, almost all of them shire districts. The fees charged for each form of advice generally conforms to those defined in the separate categories evaluated above.


One overall fee

57. The simplest and most straightforward pre-application fee to administer is an overall fixed fee, used by 31 authorities (27.4%) and covers written advice, meetings, site meetings and follow-up advice (although four authorities add a charge just for follow-up meetings).  This method is used proportionately among types of authority: Districts: 16; London Boroughs: 6; Metropolitan Districts: 3; and Unitary Authorities: 6.

58. It might have been reasonable to assume that a single overall fee might have been weighted towards authorities with very large numbers of list entries - thus simplifying the procedure for a proportionately larger number of pre-application enquires; or a or very small numbers of list entries where a more structured set of charges for pre-application enquires might be unnecessary. This seems not to be the case. Although there are authorities with very large and very small numbers of list entries among those with a single overall fee; there is a wide distribution overall with an average of 1,481 list entries per authority. If the two highest Cornwall C (12,552 entries) and Westminster CC (3,912 entries) and the two lowest Ashfield DC (79 entries) and Slough BC (102 entries) are excluded the average number of list entries falls to 1,084 per authority.

59. The average fees as a single overall charge are distorted to some extent by high charges in London: Havering LBC (£1,509); Barnet LBC (£824.50); Hillingdon LBC (£600); and Westminster (£480) and other two authorities (Bath & North East Somerset C and Melton DC) that make a charge per hour; but for the reminder, although the lowest fee is £35; the average all-in fee is £140, with Cornwall (the unitary authority with the largest number of list entries in England) only charging slightly more - £180. Most authorities are clustered in the £100 to £150 range.


Repetitive and follow-up advice

60. Pre-application discussions are usually arranged against a background of normal, short-term, statutory development management timetables, other workload pressures and scarce resources. Authorities therefore appear to structure their fees to provide, wherever possible ‘one-hit’ advice i.e. to permit other cases and other types of workload to be addressed as efficiently as possible without too much time being wasted.

61. Only 28 authorities make specific provision for a follow-up meeting fee (see also paragraph 57 above), and a further six charge an hourly rate that averages £45. Three of the authorities in London charge a fixed fee in excess of £500 per meeting which may be intended as a disincentive to protracted discussions. Outside London the average fee is £126.

62. Where fees for LBC pre-application advice have been introduced, councils appear more reluctant to entertain repetitive requests for additional office meetings, particularly by agents, This may be because of successive minor amendments to proposals to gain an ‘in principle’ acceptance, but even short written confirmatory responses to these can be very time-consuming and are unlikely to be cost-effective for the council. Such a practice is even more undesirable if, notwithstanding the nature of the amendments, additional site visits are then considered necessary.


Fees as a percentage of planning fees

63. Only Ipswich BC and Kings Lynn & West Norfolk BC base their pre-application fees on a percentage of the national fee scales set for planning applications (at 10% and 20% respectively) but as these is no fee for listed building consent, LBC pre-application advice is in effect free.


Quotations for fees

64. Sunderland CC is the only English local planning authority to state that it will offer a quotation for (all?) pre-application advice.


Fees for English Heritage involvement

65. Uniquely, York states that additional charge will be required if the authority finds it necessary to consult English Heritage.



Fees or exclusions for others services.

66. Aylesbury Vale DC charges a fee for a pre-sale or a pre-purchase compliance check on a listed building; Chichester DC charges a fee for confirmation of listing and for a simple desk-top survey; Hart DC charges a fee of £50 for desk-top listed building repair advice or 30 minutes on site. Camden LBC charges a fee of £400 for advice on demolition of unlisted buildings in a conservation area which is almost twice as much as for advice on listed building alterations without an increase in floorspace. Whether the former is intended to act as a disincentive how this relates to the abolition of Conservation Area Consent is unclear. It is also worth noting in passing that Newham LBC has a set of charges related to its Design Review service.

67. Swale DC charges advice n questions of listed building repair (but offers free LBC pre-application advice); Tewksbury DC explicitly states that advice on urgent structural repair is excluded from its fee scales, while Mid Devon DC and North Devon DC make explicit that advice regarding repair and maintenance is free, while Uttlesford DC expressly excludes the formal confirmation of whether or not LBC is required from charging.


Fees for Conservation Area Consent

68. As noted above, notwithstanding the abolition of Conservation Area Consent on 1st October 2013, at least twelve authorities were still including a tariff item among their charges in November 2014 as a consequence of not reviewing them the fees. These ranged from £190 Plymouth CC and £180 at Newark & Sherwood BC at the upper end to exemption (ie free advice) at South Hams DC and West Devon DC.


9.  A note concerning imposition of VAT

69. The majority of local authorities (57.5%) make clear that VAT is included in their charging schedule. If the percentage rate of VAT were to change, they would have to republish them. About 27.4% of authorities specify a fee without indicating if this includes VAT or not while a small minority, about 15%, quote a fee to which VAT must be added.


A confusing picture of fee setting

70. Some councils set fees for meetings but no fees for site visits (or vice versa). Some councils set different fees for domestic and non-domestic advice. Some do not tier their fees, i.e. written advice and meetings cost the same irrespective of whether the enquirer is a developer or an householder. This likely result of this is to discourage individual householders from seeking advice, particularly if also faced with the cost of preparing plans etc by an agent.

71. Although the general experience of users may be confined the fee structures of a single authority or several authorities in close proximity, the national picture overall is one of bewilderingly diversity and in some cases charges are ambiguously structured, obscurely or arbitrarily defined or seemingly unduly complex to administer.



What pre-application fees might be expected to cover


72. Fees published on a local authority’s website should enable users to readily understand precisely what service is on offer, the likely weight that can be attached to it and have a reasonable expectation of the overall cost.
73. In many cases, even when charges are categorized according to the type or size of the proposal it is by no means obvious if will define the expertise the authority will deploy; whether, for example, the officer[s] engaged in the process will have any specialist knowledge; or whether the status of the advice will be authoritative (ie will be likely to be accepted or over-ruled at formal submission stage). Over 86% of local authorities that charge a fee make no reference to the skills they will employ when offering LBC pre-application advice.
74. Based on the review of local authority web-content for this Research Note this is unlikely that these criteria can be easily met in which case users of the service are likely, at the very least, to have to make a clarifying telephone call or send an e-mail in order to understand scope of the charges and the expertise to be deployed by the council.
75. This is not to state that there are no exemplars, and number of local authorities have commendably clear and easily navigable websites including for example, Cornwall among unitary authorities; Harrow, Hillingdon, Richmond on Thames and Wandsworth among the London Boroughs; and Guildford, Southampton, Sevenoaks, and Stratford-on-Avon among the shire districts.

Blind testing of web content

76. The many evident infelicities within the local planning authority web pages accessed for the purposes of this Note suggests that council would be well advised to periodically ‘blind-test’ their web content by one or more external non-expert users to eliminate such shortcomings. Some sites, for example, refer to charges for statutory consents that have been abolished and in other instances cite enhanced charges relating to ‘complex’ listed building issues without ever defining what such complexity comprises (see paragraph 97 below).


Who provided fee-earning pre-application advice?

77. Surprisingly only four authorities (3.5%) make it explicit on their web pages that the fee for LBC pre-application advice provides for the availability of a conservation specialist: Barnet LBC; Bath & North East Somerset C; Tower Hamlet LBC and Wakefield MDC. Barnet implies that initial advice will only be provided by a Planning Officer, as an additional fee will be payable for subsequent advice from a Conservation & Design Officer.

78. Eleven authorities (9.7%) refer to LBC pre-application advice led by either the Planning Officer (unless this is an implicit catch-all title) - including Hammersmith & Fulham LBC; Kensington & Chelsea LBC; and Maldon DC; or by the ‘case officer’ – including Bury MBC and Three Rivers DC.

79. York CC is the only authority states that an additional fee is required in ‘exceptional circumstances where the development proposed is significantly complex and would require the input of a specialist officer’.

80. Both Tower Hamlets LBC and Bath and North East Somerset C imply the pre-application fee covers both a Planning Officer and a Conservation Officer but without defining if this is where both will attend a meeting or is an either/or situation. At Watford BC, there is no charge for initial (written) advice but a charge for meetings is made and the cost doubles if the Conservation Officer attends.

81. Bradford MBC makes it clear that the LBC pre-application fee includes the time of any specialist officer.  Several of other authorities ambiguously refer to an additional fee if a ‘specialist’ is required, usually implied to be for conservation or landscape advice, although notably this does not seem to imply advice on archaeology. Maidstone BC quotes an additional fee being payable ‘per advisor’; Rother DC ‘per officer’.

82. Twelve authorities (10.6%) quote a charging figure for LBC pre-application advice without clearly specifying the nature of the service provided: Boston BC; East Lindsey DC; Hillingdon LBC; Liverpool CC; North Kesteven DC; Slough BC; South Kesteven DC; Stevenage BC; Warrington BC; Waveney DC; Waverley DC and Wellingborough BC.  Although four of these authorities are in Lincolnshire, there is no other discernible pattern regarding the size, type or nature of the authorities; although in relation to numbers of list entries Slough BC and Stevenage BC each has just over one hundred listed building; while the remainder have an average of about 1,190. 

83. On the evidence of web contact as the first point of contact for many generally enquiries, users are likely to be left with the distinct impression that the expertise the authority will make available for pre-application heritage matters will be development management rather than heritage management led. Furthermore a number of fee schedules refer to meetings and written responses being only at the discretion of the planning/case officer concerned, for example at Peterborough CC and Thanet DC.

84. Although this Research Note is concerned with LBC pre-application fees, many proposals are linked with a requirement to seek planning permission for which there is a more universal charging regime.  It is not evident that any the fees generated specifically by LBC pre-application advice are distinguished from planning pre-application advice charges to directly support wider conservation services (or a separate cost centre). Fees on linked applications are not hypothecated to support heritage management functions even when schemes form part of an integrated development management process.

85. Only very rarely does a pre-application charging schedule specifically identify an additional fee for the attendance of a conservation specialist but the destination of that income is not explained. This appears to run contrary to the original objectives advanced by local authorities when introducing charges (identified in paragraph 33 above) this this would fund improvements to the service and help offset the costs associated with, for example, conservation and/or design review panels.


Informal advice and reputational risks

86. Under some circumstances there are professional operational and reputational risks in cases where planning case officers are pressurised to give informal views in order to circumvent a fee, where conservation considerations are in play but without there being the benefit of a specialist conservation input.  This should be avoided as the consequence could be to:

  • undermine the specialist officer’s professional advisory role;
  • expose the inadequacy of that advice where the relative significance of the building had already been evaluated in, for example,  a heritage statement;
  • expose the authority to reputational damage;

especially if due weight is not given to the specialist advice. This could expose the authority to Judicial Review or an Ombudsman’s complaint. [12]


Charging structures

87. As referred to in (see paragraph 46 above) fees for LBC pre-application advice are generally structured to provide for:

  • A written response (sometimes simply referred to as ‘a letter’);
  • An office meeting with one (or more) officer[s] (usually with a confirmatory response);
  • A site meeting (sometimes with a confirmatory advice).

88. Published fees are not necessarily structured in this order, and as noted above, not all authorities appear to offer all three forms of pre-application advice. Fees will sometimes be provided only for a written response; sometimes for an office meeting only and not a site meeting (or vice versa) and may be entirely at the planning or case officer’s discretion.

89. Although it is the practice of some council officers to offer written informal advice without making a site visit but this is not good practice unless the issues are quite clear and notwithstanding the time and cost of travel where sites may be remote. There is an ever present risk that the owner or agent may complain that the (inevitably more generic) advice given is inadequate and lacks sufficient detail. The quality of professional officer advice offered will inevitably be tempered by the information received and it may be better to offer a more formal (even if circumscribed) opinion but conduct a site visit as an essential part of the delivery process.

90. In some authorities officers may have the discretion (or it may be formal policy) that a lower fee than the average is charged for a service which, because of the nature of the building or the proposals could involve a disproportionate amount of officer time.

91. In some cases a low fee may reflect a small number of listed buildings within the authority’s area and the likelihood of a low volume of requests for LBC pre-application advice; in other authorities where the numbers of listed buildings run into several thousand, the fees may also be low. Blackpool BC with 41 listing entries charges £24 for written advice and £48 if a meeting or site visit is included, whereas Colchester BC with 1,563 list entries charges £26 for written advice and £50 if a site visit is included.


Officer time

92. While demands on officer time can occasionally be anticipated, in many instances the amount of time required to provide a polite, prompt but unrushed professional service by telephone, e-mail or letter will not be reflected in the authority’s charging regime.

93. Where such multi-faced advice is common-practice and when there are a large number of listed building entries, authorities have usually thought it prudent to charge only for a first meeting of site visit, but with further requests for advice only incurring an additional charge if a further site visit is needed or a requirement for significant further research is revealed. 

94. Rural authorities with a large geographical area and potentially long round trips (and travel costs) to sites have generally found this more satisfactory and needing and appropriate degree of discretion by the case officer although the experience and expertise and seniority of the decision maker may also be a factor.

95. The vast majority of local authorities (83.2%) do not set time limit on LBC pre-application discussions. Of the remainder all but three authorities set a one hour limit for meetings, usually held at council offices (but this timescale may equally apply to site visits) with any additional or follow-up meeting charged per hour. Cotswold DC applies a 2 hour limit for meetings while Hart DC charges per half-hour and Watford for thirty or forty-five minute meetings.


Charging per hour

14.10   Only two authorities, Bath & North East Somerset C and Melton DC charge a fixed fee per hour for all aspects of LBC pre-application advice, but Melton DC sets a two-hour limit for this.  Only five authorities (4.4%) charge an hourly rate for meetings and only six authorities charge an hourly rate for separate further discussions.



Other variations of charging structure

96. While a recognizable and logical pattern to charging is based on a calculation of officer time for meetings and/or associated written confirmation, there are other variations from this simple easily understood and administered formula.


Complex applications

97. Five of the outer London Boroughs: Barnet; Enfield; Haringey; Merton and Richmond; define their charges for LBC pre-application advice principally in terms of complexity. Barnet differentiates ‘complex heritage issues’ from ‘complex listed building and conservation area issues’ as separate charging categories without clearly defining either - but levies a fee of £824.50 for the former but only £273 for the latter.  Richmond similarly varies its charges of £1,861 for complex schemes and £852 for minor schemes. No provision appears to be made in these other London Boroughs if the pre-application advice is specifically not complex.

98. Two Devon authorities, South Hams DC and West Devon DC have very similar advisory structures and an identical fee to the effect that charge is levied ‘where significant advice, redesign and site visits are needed’ but the advice is free ‘where little guidance is needed’ although the boundaries between these two categories is not defined.

99. Cotswold DC imply that some pre-application advice might involve complexity by reference to fees related to ‘substantial specialist conservation advice’, and Wealdon DC notes that ‘more complex proposals will attract a higher fee’.  None of the authorities attempt to define this complexity within their web content or, for example,  what the scope of a desk-top study might comprise. York is the only authority that makes reference to ‘external input’.


Householders

100. As domestic dwellings form by far the largest category of listed buildings it is axiomatic that most pre-application requests originate with householders, but they are also generally one-off applicants.  It should normally be possible to deal with these enquiries promptly because they are usually simple in scope. There will be instances where advice and/or clarification will be sought on other matters, particularly on site; request further advice or to gain a better understanding of the relative, or overall significance of the building.

101. The more usual charging method of a fixed fee rather than an hourly rate and experienced practitioners find this tends to encourage longer discussions with home-owners and agents anxious to get the maximum value from the fee. This happens less when an hourly rate is charged but it often helps concentrate minds on the essential and relevant issues. 

102. Although many local authorities bracket LBC pre-application advice fees with minor planning alterations etc the practice of grouping domestic listed building work with householder proposals is variable.  Braintree DC, Bury MBC: Gateshead MBC; Guildford BC, Kettering BC, Maidstone BC and Uttlesford DC make a simple distinction between householder and non-householder schemes and this is usually accompanied by a sharp differentiation in the fees. For example, Maidstone charges £440 for a one hour meeting but this falls to £86 for advice on householder proposals.

103. Islington differentiates between householder proposals and those that are ‘not a single dwelling house or residential flat’; Wandswoth LBC offers a lower charge for written advice to householders, while Hackney LBC only charges a fee for householder LBC pre-application advice. Lambeth LBC bases its charges on domestic dwellings and the ‘cost is based on the time required to consider a proposal affecting a typical listed building within Lambeth – a C19 terraced house or individual house within a larger block’.

104. It is quite possible that a number of other authorities automatically include LBC Pre-application fees for domestic dwellings in the same category as ordinary householder applications, but if this is the case, the web content does not make this explicit.


In principle advice & fast track advice

105. Mid Devon DC and North Devon DC charge a low preliminary fee for in-principle written advice and Rochford DC for ‘generic’ written advice, while South Oxfordshire DC and Vale of White Horse DC have separate sets of fees regarding pre-application advice on heritage issues and specific advice on listed building extensions. Aylesbury Vale DC has a sliding scale of charges depending on the speed of response required, while Bedford BC provides a lower fee for fast-track written advice.
106. Wyre Forest DC is unique in charging per issue. The authority charges £37 for raising ‘up to three separate matters’ and £72 for ‘more than three separate matters’ but does not explain wow these matters are compartmentalized.


Fees based on floorspace

107. Although stratification of planning fees for different ranges of (commercial) floorspace is commonplace, this is not usually apply to LBC pre-application advice. Wandsworth LBC sets a fee for LBC pre-application advice of £150 where alterations to the floorspace of a listed building will increase by up to 999 sq.m but no fee is quoted if the increase exceeds this figure. Westminster CC charges for written advice on listed building alterations where the increase in floorspace is less than 499 sq.m, although again no fee is quoted if the increase exceeds this figure.

108. Wokingham DC’s web content defines its fees according to charges related to increases in non-householder floorspace up to 2,999 sq.m and between 3,000 and 5,000 sq.m (with a separate fee for householder schemes).


Charging by building type

109. The web content of local authorities does not structure its LBC pre-application fees in accordance with specific building types despite the possibility that in some locations for example barns in rural authorities conversion schemes may be quite prolific. The omission of building types might also be a consequence of the very intermitted updating of fee schedules.

110. Several county conservation forums have drawn attention to the often time- consuming nature of barn conversion proposals. It is felt that these almost invariably require a site visit but assessment is often hampered by a lack of informed prior recording and less than best practice descriptions on the National Heritage List. It is persuasively argued that the introduction of a building-specific fee for buildings such as these could enable the principle of conversion, alteration and repair to be addressed especially if the appropriate documentation necessary to support such an application were clearly specified.


Charging by type of authority

111. There is no clearly discernible pattern to this among types of authority with one notable exception. None of the national park authorities charge for LBC pre-application advice apart from Dartmoor NPA which only charges a fee for a site visit (and a follow-up if necessary).


Miscellaneous issues –

Co-ordinated charges
112. Local or sub-regional groups of local authorities are known to occasionally compare their pre-application fees. Work was done by Kent Conservation Officers Forum in 2014 to compare three Kent districts with thirteen other widely spread English local planning authorities. [13] Similar work may have been done elsewhere but if so it, does not appear to readily accessible.

113. Any widespread agreement to co-ordinate fees cannot be confirmed but it is noted that several pairs of authorities in Devon do so, as do authorities in central Lincolnshire, but even where this occurs, there does not appear to be any overt common policy or specific objectives for the use of the income generated other than perhaps the offering of a greater degree of local clarity for users about the costs of the service offered.


A note about joint site visits with Building Control Officers

114. LBC pre-application discussions may raise questions regarding implications for building regulations. Under those circumstances it may be advisable for a joint site visit with Building Control Officers but no fee structures exist specifically for this eventuality.

115. Planning submissions rarely contain the detail necessary for Building regulations approval and resolution of some issues at LBC pre-application advice stage may obviate the need for detailed post planning approval amendments that often only become apparent after a listed building consent has been issued.

116. Local authority Building Control services do not currently charge for pre-application advice (even though larger projects might include heritage component) as generally the service would want some sort of assurance that they would be used for the formal application. An additional fee payable to the local authority would be difficult to justify especially where Building Control is in competition with Approved Inspectors. [14]


Bob Kindred MBE BA IHBC MRTPI IHBC


[1] In practice the number of individual listed buildings may exceed the number of list entries by up to 40%.
[2] ie beyond development management, not covering other key service components: policy advice; technical advice; conservation area appraisal and management; grant administration; heritage at risk; quality assurance, compliance and enforcement; and, environmental enhancement.
[3] A Material World - Charging for Pre-Application Planning Advice’, PAS April 2007
[4] in some authorities this extended to listed buildings and works in conservation areas
[5] No specific work appears to have been done by any of these bodies since 2003 on the heritage management regime and the planning arrangements are far from consistent.
[6] a practice which is still far from evident from most local authority planning web content.
[7] The method of validation of listed building applications is an important consideration for good practice. Conservation specialists should normally play a significant part in validation given the consultation role of, for example, the statutory consultees and should not be seen as just an administrative exercise.
[8] When Dover DC introduced charging in July 2009 an immediate drop in enquiries resulted to an average level of one pre-application consultation per month. [Source: unpublished Kent Conservation Officers Group Paper 2014]
[9] although some authorities charge for this (see paragraph 67)
[10] Usually triggered directly by the Parochial Church Council and the Incumbent or via the Diocesan Advisory Committee
[11] For the sake of comparison, any schedules of fees on the relevant Council webpage that were quoted exclusive of VAT, have for the purposes of this this Research Note been converted to include VAT for easer of comparison. (The tax is payable in any event, of course).
[12] See IHBC website www.ihbc.org.uk for Ombudsman cases, and particularly the Judicial Review July 2014, High Court, Queen’s Bench Div. Steve Pendleton v Stratford on Avon DC ex parte Charles Davies.
[13] Unpublished report 2014.
[14] Although in some areas the Building Regulations are administered by Approved Inspectors they also don’t currently charge but again they would want an assurance they were getting the business. 


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