Tory conference latest: Gavin Barwell says councils may be allowed to charge more

Planning minister Gavin Barwell has signalled that the government is set to allow councils to charge higher fees for handling planing applications.

Speaking in a fringe event at the Conservative party conference yesterday afternoon (Sunday), Barwell said: “We need to look at the resourcing of planing departments where fees have been frozen for quite a while.”

The move is part of a plan being drawn up to tackle the housing crisis by Barwell, who said that the main mission he had been given by Theresa May was to boost housebuilding numbers when he was appointed to his new post three months ago.

His comments came ahead of this morning’s announcement that the Tories’ plan to borrow an extra £2bn to “accelerate” housebuilding.

Commenting on funding planning departments, Barwell said: “We won’t be moving to councils charging what they want but we are sympathetic to the problem. This is one of the very rare issues where nearly everyone agrees whether I talk to developers or councillors. Lots of developers have said they would be happy to pay a premium.”

But he said councils would not be given a blank cheque to hike fees.

“My bottom line is that I would want an assurance from the councils concerned that every single penny they raise on the fees is spent on planing departments.”

Barwell said he was keen to examine the planing performance of councils across the board and not just how quickly they processed major applications.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, told the meeting that under-resourcing of planning departments was a “growing problem” for his SME builder members.

“They are willing to pay to speed up the process, things have got to such a bad level.”

Barwell also reiterated at the meeting, which was organised by the FMB and the National House Building Council , that he wanted to move away from the Cameron government’s concentration on home ownership by boosting all forms of housing provision.

“I want to see more homes of every type, I want to see more homes built for sale.I want to se more private rented sector and more affordable rented accomodation. Iwant more of all of those.”