SCOTLAND’S biggest local authority has revealed plans to introduce fees for pre-application planning advice for the first time.

Glasgow City Council (GCC) said the proposals to charge for the advice, which until now has been given free by its planning officials to developers and agents to help them prepare planning applications, will bring it into line with a growing number of local authorities across Scotland.

It is understood that 12 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities now charge for the advice, some of which have been doing so since 2005, with Edinburgh and Stirling among the most recent additions.

The Glasgow authority’s city administration committee is scheduled to consider a report on the proposal on September 17.

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Although there is no legislative requirement to seek advice before planning applications are submitted, the council noted that pre-planning guidance helps ensure applications proceed as smoothly as possible, and allows developers to save costs.

GCC has not disclosed a structure for the proposed fees, but noted that the charges would vary according to the complexity of the project.

City of Edinburgh Council charges £200 plus valued added tax (VAT) for a “standard service” on a small development of up to 11 homes or 999 square metres of commercial space. The cost for a standard service on a major or national development, involving five meetings with a case officer, is £4,900 plus VAT.  As an example of a major development, the Edinburgh authority cites a two-plus hectare site, which may be earmarked for 50-plus homes, 10,000 square metres of class 4,5 or 6 space, or 5,000 square metres of mixed or other space.

There are around 100 people working in the Glasgow planning team, with around 36 employees providing pre-application advice on a full-time equivalent basis.

A spokesman for GCC said: “The pre-application advice service has operated successfully for a number of years, providing customers with greater certainty on the likely outcome of, and key issues that need to be addressed within, a future application for planning permission. This advice can be given by the planning authority for any type and scale of development within the city – from householder to major development.”

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The spokesman added: “Although non-statutory, it is widely recognised that pre-application planning advice can be a valuable step within the development process. It can help give applicants confidence that their proposal may be supported (or otherwise) before costly commitments are made with the preparation and submission of a planning application.”

Gillian Stewart, chair of the British Council for Offices in Scotland, and a director of Michael Laird Architects, broadly welcomed the Glasgow proposals, noting that any move from “informal” advice offered by planners to “robust” and “defendable” guidance is positive from a developer’s standpoint. She said: “We feel it is probably a good thing. The benefit we see from a design perspective is that it gives you a constructive dialogue at a very early stage.”

Ms Stewart, who emphasised that she was speaking from a design perspective, added: “As long as it (the fee) is affordable and the advice is worth the money, and adds value to the process. It saves multiple iterations of design development. It would give designers a much clearer steer and I am sure that developers would be happy with that too.”

She noted: “Anything that gives meaningful dialogue, and is recorded, would add value, as long as the fee is not huge.”

Fiona Gordon, managing associate in the planning and infrastructure consenting team at law firm Addleshaw Goddard, said: “Proactive and pragmatic developers already engage with their local planning authorities at an early stage anyway but, for the most part, developers tend to welcome a more formal pre-application service if it results in increased or improved resources being put towards their application.

“Pre-application engagement has the benefit of ironing out potential issues at the start of the process, rather than facing the prospect of unexpected difficulties or new issues being introduced further down the line, which could ultimately prove more costly and time consuming.

But Ms Gordon added: “Major applications already cost six-figure fees – effectively an investment in local authority decision making – however there is not always a well-resourced pre-application service whatever the expectation.

“The requirement for a further significant fee would need to be met with some clear service priorities.”

The move by GCC comes as major developments are still going ahead in Glasgow despite the challenges created by coronavirus. The council said yesterday that the current level of developer interest and application submissions are essentially the same as they were one year ago.

Landmark building Portcullis House, at 21 India Street, was acquired last month by build-to-rent developer Watkin Jones. It plans to create 750 residential units, though the site had been earmarked for a potential hotel when it first came on to the market in the spring.