Housing developers will have to stump up more cash for advice before submitting major planning applications, under plans by Waverley Borough Council to ease the pressure on its planning department.

Waverley’s new paid-for pre-application advice service will launch tomorrow, helping applicants by providing information about the application process and the likelihood of their application being approved before submission.

The council hopes it will speed up the process by reducing the need for officers to write to the applicant for clarification or further information and helping ensure that potential applicants are aware of the policies and other considerations that will be applied to their proposals.

The new system offers three basic levels of service, suiting a range of applicants from homeowner right up to major developers. But Waverley’s housing porfolio holder, Councillor Liz Townsend, said fees will now “more closely reflect the actual cost of providing the service”.

Waverley has not disclosed these fees, as its service is in direct competition with commercial planning consultants.

But a spokesman added each submission will be assessed on its own merits and given a bespoke quote, the fee adjusted for the “complexity of the submission”, taking into account such factors as location, design requirements and local constraints.

A significant backlog of planning applications built up during the pandemic, which the council blamed on a national shortage of qualified planning officers, a ‘lockdown bounce’ increasing the number of planning applications being submitted, and teething troubles with the launch of a new planning IT system.

This led the council to suspend the pre-application advice service altogether between May 2021 and November 2021 to free up staff to help address the backlog of planning applications.

Cllr Townsend said: “Like nearly all local planning authorities, we have struggled with resourcing issues within the planning team in recent years, and there were serious issues with the implementation of our new IT system. However, the IT system is now working well and is a definite improvement over the system it replaced.

“We have also been working very hard behind the scenes on reviewing our processes to improve the quality and efficiency of our work. Our new pre-application advice service is another step on that path and will help reduce the amount of work required to process applications whilst giving applicants advice on how to give their proposals a greater chance of being found acceptable.

“We’re also introducing different service levels and timescales for advice to be given, so fees can more closely reflect the actual cost of providing the service and we end the situation where council taxpayers effectively subsidise the service for major developers.

“I’m pleased to say that we’ve already made great progress at speeding up the time taken to process applications and reducing the backlog that has built up during the pandemic, with further good news to come over the next few months.”