West Lothian Council’s planning income hit by Covid

West Lothian Council  has seen its income from planning fees plunge  as the lockdown has closed down the building industry and caused hundreds to put plans on hold.

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Planning applications, from housing estates to garages and dormers all have charges, with fees  mostly relative to their size and complexity.

The council has  seen the income its receives from planning applications almost halve in the year to September.

Details emerged after a recent meeting of the  Development and Transport  Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel which heard  an update on the budget for the planning and other departments covered by the PDSP.

Financial officers were keen to point out that the planning service fees  do not cover the costs of  running the service.

A report to the PDSP added:  “Planning and building warrant income is variable in that it is impacted by general economic and, in the current environment, specific Covid-19  pandemic, circumstances such as customer confidence, interest rate changes, mortgage  availability and employment levels which in turn affect the housing market and the council’s associated planning and building warrant income.”

It added: “Service performance remains high with the majority of performance indicators within agreed targets and above the Scottish average.

“One area where service delivery has been below target is major planning applications which have taken longer than anticipated, mainly as a result of the complex nature of these applications and the need to enter into related legal agreements to secure developer contributions towards infrastructure improvements.”

A West Lothian Council spokesperson said afterwards: “We have seen a significant drop in income received from planning applications in 2020/21.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the construction industry, reducing the amount of construction work and developments coming forward.

“During financial year 2019/20, we recorded an average quarterly fee income of £325,250. This was reduced to £212,000 for the first quarter of 2020/21, and we have so far recorded fees of £163,000 for the second quarter up to September 13, 2020.”

Meanwhile, house prices increased slightly in West Lothian in the latest figures.

The average West Lothian house price in June was £165,325, Land Registry figures show – a 0.7 per cent increase on May. Over the last year, the average sale price of property in West Lothian rose by £6,300 – putting the area 11th among Scotland’s 32 local authorities for annual growth.