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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 11/10/2005
Proposals to Reform the Development Control Committee and Area Development Control Sub-Committees

Summary & Purpose
This reports sets out the considerations and proposals of the Modernising Planning Special Interest Group in relation to the review of the Development Control Committee and its Sub-Committees.

The proposals build upon the model for two Development Management Sub-Committees to cover the whole Borough, which was agreed in principle at the Council meeting on 19th July 2005. This report includes conclusions on those matters Council wished to have considered.

The Modernising Planning (MP) SIG recommends that Council implement the new Development Management Committees in the new calendar year with an initial review in April 2006 to make any adjustments as a result of experience and a further review in January 2007 to assess whether the service objectives have been met.

Quality of Life Implications
Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe Communities
Local Economy
Resource Use
Prevention and Control
and Nature
Safe, Healthy
and Active



[Wards Affected: All]

Summary and purpose:

This reports sets out the considerations and proposals of the Modernising Planning Special Interest Group in relation to the review of the Development Control Committee and its Sub-Committees.

The proposals build upon the model for two Development Management Sub-Committees to cover the whole Borough, which was agreed in principle at the Council meeting on 19th July 2005. This report includes conclusions on those matters Council wished to have considered.

The Modernising Planning (MP) SIG recommends that Council implement the new Development Management Committees in the new calendar year with an initial review in April 2006 to make any adjustments as a result of experience and a further review in January 2007 to assess whether the service objectives have been met.

Quality of life implications – social, environmental & economic (sustainable development):

E-Government implications:

There is a range of suggestions relating to improved communication with Town and Parish Councils, Waverley Members and applicants and agents. In particular, the Modernising Planning SIG has stressed the need to publicise the availability of the Council's PARSOL system and the Constitution SIG has proposals for improving communication further.

Resource and legal implications:

There are no direct legal implications arising from this report.
Resource implications are set out in the report.


1. This report is structured under the following headings.

Background to the review of the Development Control and its Sub-Committees
Objectives of the review
The review process
The terms of reference as set out by the Council
Conclusions on matters of interest to Council
The Development Management Committees
o The names of the Committees
o The Membership of the Committees
o The delegated powers of the Committees
o Officer delegated powers.
o The role of the Town and Parish Councils
o Public Speaking
o Officer presentations
o Site Visit arrangements
o Reporting of Enforcement Information and progress
o Reporting of delegated decisions made by officers.
o Impacts on resources
o Impacts on speed of decision making
o Implementation timetable

Background to the review of the Development Control and its Area Sub-Committees

1. The Best Value review in 2000 identified the Area Sub-Committee system as a matter of concern and the consequent Improvement Plan identified this as a matter for review in 2004. The Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee carried out its own review of Development Control in 2004. At its meeting on 23rd November 2004, the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee approved its final report to the Executive which included:

"That the Executive should commission a report from Officers on the pros and cons and possible models for changing from the current five committee system to a more streamlined system, for example, of two geographical committees with no superior committee.

2. The Committee was very much aware of the need to maintain Members' role in any amended system, and recognises the controversial nature of even an investigation into changes but it fully recognised the need for such an investigation."

3. The Executive considered this report at its meeting on 7th December 2004. It was agreed that 'the recommendation of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee be accepted in principle and be taken into account by the Officers in drawing up proposals for improving the service.

4. The Executive re established the Modernising Planning Special Interest Group to review the Development Control Committees and make recommendations for change at its meeting on the 14th June 2005.

5. In parallel the Government identified Waverley as a Planning Standards Authority because it failed to meet the BVPI targets for Major and Minor applications in 2004. As a result the Planning service was scrutinised by Addisons, consultants working on behalf of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The result of that review was to categorise Waverley as a “Red Light” authority. This means that the ODPM regards Waverley as being in serious risk of not meeting BVPI targets for the year 2006/7. The ODPM has underlined that these targets are not negotiable and that all Planning Authorities have to meet them by 2007. The consequences for not doing so include a continuous regime of ODPM inspection, penalties through the loss of Planning Delivery Grant, intervention in the management of the service and or the removal of the planning service from the Council. Addisons expressed concerns about both the consistency of decisions across the Borough and the speed of decisions made by the Area Committees. The number of deferrals together with a four weekly cycle was at the heart of their concerns.

6. In addition the Planning Service has been subject to a further Best Value review by the Audit Commission. Their final report is awaited but in their draft conclusions they have reiterated concerns about the impacts of the Area Development Committees on recipients of the service and on speed of decisions similar to the Addisons report and in particular they are concerned that the culture of Members is such that changes to the committee processes are unlikely to be seen through. This together with other factors around registration and section 106 processes causes them to conclude that Waverley has uncertain prospects for further improvements.

7. Furthermore the customer satisfaction level with the service is not satisfactory with only 56% of users being satisfied compared to a national average of around 70%. Not of all of this can be put down to the current committee systems but it is a further indicator of the need to improve the service.

8. Whilst all of this may appear as pessimistic it is worth taking stock of the improvement journey embarked upon in 2001. At that time Waverley was judged to have a “fair service with promising prospects for improvements". The recent review suggests that the improvement already made over the last three years have moved the Planning Service to a “Good service but with uncertain prospects for further improvement". Officers consider this conclusion is not reflective of the change agenda adopted by the Council and have provided further evidence to the Audit Commission on this matter.

Objectives of the review

9. Following from these criticisms there are a number objectives that any proposed changes need to be judged against. These fall into two broad objectives, which are to improve:-

(a) efficiency of decisions; and

(b) the quality of decision making

Speed objectives to:
(iv) Improving the business efficiency of the Committees

The Review Process

10. The review process has its roots in the Best Value Review of 2000 and its Improvement Plan. In 2004 as a result of increasing focus on the need to improve BVPI targets the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee carried out a review of the Development Control function and made recommendations for change and further work. That was been taken up by the Executive through the Modernising Planning SIG in June 2005. It initially looked at a model consisting of two Borough wide committees as suggested by the then Chairmen of the Development Control and Area Sub-Committees and recommended the principles of such a system to the Council. The Council agreed the principles of the model in July 2005 but asked the Modernising Planning SIG to examine related matters as set out below. A serious of meetings to consider these matters took place, as set out in Annexe 1. That process has resulted in both the Modernising Planning SIG and the Constitutional SIG recommending adopting the two-committee model. The conclusions of the Constitution Special Interest Group at its meetings on 9th and 28th September 2005 are attached at Annexe 2 for Members' consideration.

Modernising Planning SIG Terms of reference

11. There were three specific tasks that the SIG was asked by the Executive to consider and reach conclusions on with a view to making recommendations.

These were:

1. Consider the operation of the Development Control Committee and its Area Committees and make recommendations for change; 2. Consider and make recommendations for service improvements or actions arising from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister evaluation or from the Best Value re inspection of the Planning Service; and 3. Consider the utilisation of the additional Planning Delivery Grant allocated to the Council to deliver service improvements.

12. At its meeting on the 29th June 2005 the Modernising Planning Special Interest Group considered a proposed model of Committees to replace the current Area-Sub Committee structure. It was agreed to take the principles of that model forward and the Town and Parish Councils, the Executive, the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee gave subsequent consideration to it. Council endorsed the principles of the model on the 19th July 2005 and this was subject to a number of matters that it considered important to be taken into account in developing the detail of the model. A copy of the Executive report to Council setting out the model is attached at Annexe 3 for information.

13. At the Council meeting on 19th July 2005 it was agreed that:-

In addition, the Executive be requested to task the Modernising Planning SIG with bringing forward to ELOS, the Development Control Committee and subsequently Executive and Council - with a target of Council of 25th October 2005 - proposals to effect the following. In undertaking their task, the SIG should consult with Members and Town/Parish Councils, and be assisted by Officers:-

(i) A review of the procedure by which Members may require a particular application to be brought to a Committee, including in any scheme consultation with Parish and Town Councils to ensure that their input into whether an application should go before a Committee is given proper weight.

(ii) A review of the Scheme of Delegation to ensure that Local Members are made aware in advance of a pending delegated decision, and the reasons for that decision, in order to assist them with any discussions on taking an application to Committee.

(iii) A review of the public speaking scheme with a view to extending this to all applications that go before Committee.

(iv) To ensure, by an appropriate change to the Constitution, that a local Member not a Member of a Committee, may participate as of right fully in any debate (but not vote) on a particular application in his/her Ward at a Committee.

(v) A critical review of the input of the Highways Authority with a view to ensuring Members are aware of and understand the reasoning behind important Highways observations.

(vi) A look at how to extend pre-application discussions to a greater number of applications."

Conclusions on matters of interest to Council

In reporting the findings of the MP SIG reference has been made to the relevance of the seven review objectives outlined in paragraph 9.

Delegation triggers (objectives iv, vi and vii)

14. The MP SIG recommends no fundamental changes to the current process to enable Members to discuss with officers whether an application should be referred to Committee for a decision. It was concluded that Town/ Parish Councils should not be able to act as a trigger to bringing an application to Committee. The SIG agreed that improved communication between Waverley and the Town/Parish Councils was important. Members agreed that Town/Parish Clerks should receive training to assist them with their role. The SIG acknowledged the important role of the Borough Member in giving a local view. The role of the Borough Member should be stressed as the appropriate line of communication for the Parish Council on planning applications that they consider ought to have some Member input.

Notice of delegated decisions (objective v and vi)

15. It was agreed that the scheme of delegation should not be amended to allow local Members to refer to Committee a pending delegated decision. The SIG agreed that there should not be an additional procedure that gives local Members an early indication of which decisions were likely to be delegated. Officers informed the SIG that the reports of delegated decisions would soon be available on the website along with the decisions and reasons, which are currently available. The SIG agreed that the existing weekly list of applications was adequate as a trigger to enable a Member to decide if they wished to ask Officers to bring an application to Committee. Officers confirmed that the list should include the details of the Council's agents dealing with outsourced applications so that Members could contact the appropriate Case Officer to discuss applications that they felt should go to Committee.

Public Speaking (Objective iv and vi)

16. It was agreed that the Public Speaking Scheme should not be amended at this present time but kept under review as part of any subsequent review of the new committee system.

Member Involvement (Objective v and vi)

17. It was agreed that a ward Member should have a right to open and close the discussion on an application reported to a Development Management Committee, but not have a right to join in any debate or vote.

Highway Advice (Objective v)

18. This was highlighted by the SIG as a particular area of concern. It was agreed that a more robust stance should be encouraged from Surrey Highways department. It was agreed that there needed to be both improved quality and clarity of advice from them. It was confirmed that these comments would be fed through to the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee which was currently undertaking an in-depth review into Surrey County Council Highways Department input into development control decisions. Members suggested that the input of the Surrey Local Government Association input in these matters might be helpful and that this should be looked at further. The Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee has subsequently agreed to adopt this approach.

Pre-application discussions on Other Applications (Objective v)

19. The SIG strongly felt that Members should not be involved with any pre-application discussions on other and most minor applications, as this would bring into question issues of probity. It was agreed that PARSOL was an excellent system and members of public including residents associations should be informed about its existence. It was agreed that officers should report further on the systems for pre application discussions at a later time but not to confuse this issue with the Committee review process.

The Development Management Committee Proposals

The names of the Committees

20. Constitutionally the two Development Management Committee would remain as sub-committees to a parent committee. The parent committee would comprise Members from both Development Management Committees. However the Constitution SIG is anxious to stress the new powers of the Development Management Committees by reducing the emphasis on their sub Committee relationship.

21. Officers therefore suggest that the parent committee might be called the “Planning Management Committee to distinguish it from the Development Management Committee A and B. Alternatively the parent Committee could be the Development Management Committee with the sub committees called Development Management Panels.

Membership of the Committees (Objective iii, iv, v and vi)

22. It is recommended at this stage that the parent committees would consist of 44 Members and the Development management Committees of 22 Members.

23. Attention is drawn the conclusions of the Constitution SIG on this issue at Annexe 2 and their comments about the allocation of members to the committees to ensure a balanced representation.

24. It is recommended that in the light of the size of the Committees the substitution system be abandoned. The SIG agreed that it was important that the Members received training on the new Committee structure. The SIG agreed that there should be no referrals to Council from the main parent Committee.

Officer Delegated Powers (Objective iv, v, vi and vii)

25. It was agreed that there was not a need to change the officer delegation scheme. However, the SIG did emphasise the role of the local Ward Member in feeding through the local view to Committee and providing a link for the Town/Parish Councils.

26. The SIG agreed that Town/Parish Councils needed greater feedback on why a decision was made. Officers confirmed that delegated decisions and the reasons for decisions would go on the website on a weekly basis.

27. The SIG emphasised the need for training for Town/Parish Councils on their role and Officers highlighted that a Parish Planning Forum on how Town/Parish Councils should make their comments was discussed at the Town and Parish meeting held on 30th August 2005.

28. The SIG agreed that further training was needed on Codes of Conduct and issues of Probity. It was agreed that it would be beneficial for Waverley and Town/Parish Councils to receive training. The SIG also highlighted that a paper on this matter would be beneficial.

29. The recommendation of the Constitution SIG on officers to review the delegated powers so that officers to work up detailed proposals for a change in approach to delegation to one of reserving key powers to the Committee or Sub-Committees and delegating all others.

Officer Presentations (Objective i, iv and v)

30. The importance of Officer presentations was strongly emphasised by the SIG.

31. The new draft format attached at an Annexe 4 to the report was agreed by the SIG. It was agreed that the contact details of the case officer should also be contained. It was also agreed that the relevant planning history should be amended to be Planning History and this should include the full history.

Site Visit Arrangements (Objective i and iv)

32. The SIG again emphasised the importance of presentations and that this would reduce the need for site visits. It was agreed not to change the current system but Officers were asked to work on a system for identifying pre meeting site visits where that might be appropriate.

33. The SIG did acknowledge the difficulties in administering a bus for site visits and budget issue. Further detailed work is recommended on this area.

Reporting matters of Information (Objective iv)

34. It was agreed that regular information items i.e. appeals, delegated planning decisions which are currently reported on the agenda summary pages should, under the new system, be produced as part of the weekly lists and go on the website.

35. With reference to enforcement updates it was agreed that Committees should receive a quarterly report on this matter.

Impact on Resources.

36. The move to a two-committee structure has limited impact on the overall financial costs to the Council but does impact on opportunity costs. Indeed as indicated earlier the central drivers relate to speed and quality rather than efficiency savings.

37. Officers have done some further work on the impact on resources as requested by ELOS and Development Control Committees.

38. The abandonment of the substitution system will also save some time in Committee services in terms of arranging for substitutions. This could be in the order of 8 staff hours per month. The 2005/6 budget has already made an allowance of a reduction of 5,000 for Committee Service staff based on the intention to review the Area Sub Committees.

39. With fewer committees to service there is an opportunity cost for Planning Officers and Committee Services officers to spend time on other work. At the moment there are at least five briefing meetings a month, which can involve two or more planning officers and a Committee Secretary. This consumes about 25 staff hours a month. The new system is likely to consume only 8 to 10 staff hours a month for briefings with a saving of 15 to 17 hours per month.

40. The new system is likely to generate around 15 applications per committee, which is not inconsistent with other Planning Authorities committee workloads. This will see a better use of Member and Officer time and will avoid the cancellation of meetings due to the low number of items, that ultimately disadvantages any applicant who’s application is delayed.

41. There is no saving in officer time in preparing reports, as these would need to be done in any event.

42. If matters of information were reported to Members electronically then this could save in the region of 1,500 printing costs.

43. Site visits may take longer to complete given the increased travel distances, but it is difficult to quantify this at this time. Currently only 19 members have claimed for site visits of the 45 who sit on Area Committees at a cost of less than 800 per year. It is likely that could be cost neutral when considering a desire to reduce the number of site visits but at the same time when they are called longer journeys will be involved.

44. The current calendar of 58 meetings will be replaced with 17 meetings freeing both meeting accommodation and member and officer evening commitments.

Impact on Speed of Decisions

45. If the changes to the committee system were considered in isolation then the improvements to speed of decisions as set out in Annexe 5 could be realised. An 11% increase in major applications being reported to Committee within the target period and a 32% increase in Minor applications. With improvements in registration and S. 106 agreements then these figures could be improved to achieve 80% of both minor and major applications being reported and determined within target times.

46. Annexe 5 also illustrates that 40% of applications are deferred at Committee. A 20% improvement will be achieved by not referring on to a parent committee, and it is possible to achieve around a 10% improvement in a reduction of site visits. Taken together it is possible to target 94% of applications being determined at the first committee compared to 60% now.

47. Taking the whole of the changes being implemented into account the proposed Committee system should enable 80% of Minor and Major Applications to be reported to Committee within the target times. Whilst members might be aware that the Planning Department focused energy on all of the BVPI targets for the April –June 2005 period as this was the last accounting period for 2006/7 PDG this effort is not sustainable. The Major application target is volatile because of the low numbers and the nature of the proposals. This is confirmed in the ODPM’s consultant’s report where they point out the unsustainable nature of the workload per officer. Further reports will be made through the Modernising Planning SIG on this workload and resources issue in response to the final reports from the ODPM and the Audit Commission.

Modernising Planning Special Interest Group

At its meeting on 20th September 2005 the observations of the Constitution SIG and the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee (ELOS) were considered.

In summary, the MP SIG concluded: -

1. It accepted and sympathised with the deeply felt attachment to the current Area Sub-Committee system, as expressed at ELOS, and recognised that this system had become an integral part of Waverley Members' role and Waverley's culture, and had taken account of several Members' unhappiness with the proposed changes.

2. It shared this unhappiness particularly about the basis for the pressure from government and the Audit Commission for change, however the SIG's judgement on balance was that resisting this would be futile and Borough residents would come off worst if it were resisted.

3. It agreed the need to devise the best systems to protect Borough residents’ interests and to safeguard a democratic input into planning decisions. The SIG felt that the newly strengthened role for Ward Members, which would continue to respect the input of local knowledge from Ward members.

4. It agreed that systems for arranging site visits and improving presentations needed more detailed thought.

5. It recognised the need for Political Groups to bear in mind the need for a good geographical spread of Members on both Sub-Committees and agreed that this SIG could review Group nominations to suggest any necessary adjustments to achieve this.

6. It accepted the need to review the system in a year to ensure it had achieved the expected improvement in performance indicators, and that the Officers look further at some quality measures such as the number of appeals.


The Modernising Panning SIG and the Constitution SIG both recommend that the new committee structure should be implemented from January 2006.


It is recommended that:-

1. the Executive endorse the work of the Modernising Planning and Constitution Special interest Groups and recommends to the Council the Development Management Committees as detailed in the report and annexes;

2. reviews the views of the Constitution SIG on proposals for changes to the Constitution, and makes any proposals for change to the Council; and

3. the proposal for a future review of the Scheme of Delegation, as set out in paragraph 2 of the Constitution SIG’s report at Annexe 2 be endorsed.

Background Papers (DoP&D)

Addisons report into the Waverley planning Service 2005.
Draft report from the Audit Commission on Best Value Review 2005.


Name: John Anderson Telephone: 01483 523298

E-mail: jaanderson@waverley.gov.uk