If FIFA president Sepp Blatter were to demand £2,000 from the FA every time he met with general secretary Alex Horne to discuss how England might win the 2018 World Cup vote on 2nd December, even Blatter would not survive the furore. Yet £2,000 is about the average charge a council will now make for meeting with a developer seeking planning permission.
Does anyone see the conflict? No, not really. But what they do see are a number of serious flaws in a system introduced under Local Government Act 2003 a system which began with Westminster city council charging in 2004, then spread relatively slowly, and is now accelerating.
In February 2009, a survey presciently headed Money talks in Planning magazine found 159 of the 348 English councils did not charge; today, you would be hard pushed to find more than a few dozen.
In principle, charging is not a bad thing, says Roger Hepher, head of planning at Savills. But the service charge does not come naturally to local authorities. If they are going to charge, they must provide as good advice as possible.
CB Richard Ellis, planning head, Stuart Robinson, echoes Hephers view. Weve all now got over the principle of charging, he says. But what is really annoying is when you get a cast of thousands and nobody answers the key questions.
Architect Rab Bennett is a bit more rude. The meetings are becoming formalised, stultifying and useless, he says. Simon Silver of Derwent London would like to see change. The ideology of a pre-app is fine, but in practice it is not working, he says. We would actually be happy to pay more at an earlier stage to find out which direction the application is going. That would cut out an awful lot of the detailed work we now have to do before the last meeting. The last thing on the mind of the four above is that paying for advice helps buy permission. But the reluctance of the council planners is to sell their advice is tangible, evidenced by their wary reactions. The result is a pre-application system tainted by cash and ossifying into just another weary and expensive hurdle to jump.
As one of the above-named confided: The most useful system by far remains having a cup of coffee with the chief planner and asking what he thinks.
That's not as easy as once it was. And the rapid spread of the charging system and the inevitable hikes to come from cash-strapped council will make it no easier.
No more obsessives
Every block of flats has at least one obsessive whose mission is to drive the managing agent crazy. Mary-Anne Bowring has found a partial cure: send them the link to Flatie a little green man who raps out a two-minute hymn to self-management hymn self-management at www.flatie.co.uk.
Flatie was invented by Bowring, who runs the 54-strong Ringley Group, which manages 6,500 flats from offices in Camden Town, north London. The Spongebob-like character is the face of a campaign to persuade leaseholders in blocks of fewer than 12 units to manage their own affairs using a series of self-help tools provided via the web by Ringley.
The benefit to leaseholders is that the minimum full-service management fee of, say, 2,000, is reduced to £525 for four flats or £875 for eight. The benefit for leaseholders is that it doesn't lose a fortune in dealing with seven-page letters from the lone obsessive.
These people can bankrupt a firm, she says. All it takes is one person demanding your time 24 hours a day. What we have done is set up a new product class for managing agents that or service charge administrator. If you get that seven-page letter, you tell them to sort it out among themselves.
Last month, Bowring introduced an even further cut-down service. For £175, leaseholders can use Ringley software to prepare their own accounts without even the help of Mr Flatie.
Former EG Editor Peter Bill contributes to estatesgazette,com/blogs
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