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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 13/09/2005
Findings of the Modernising Planning Special Interest Group (SIG)



ANNEXE 2

Executive report to Council Meeting on 19th July 2005

H. FINDINGS OF THE MODERNISING PLANNING SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP (SIG)
[Wards Affected: All]

H.1 The Executive has considered in advance of consideration by the adjourned Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee the report of the Modernising Planning SIG. Aspects of the report have also been considered by the Development Control Committee and by the twice yearly meeting with Town and Parish Councils.

H.2 The Executive noted the information reports headed:-

(a) Planning Service Improvement Journey - Setting the Scene; and

(b) Planning Service Improvements : Improving Efficiency;

and focused its discussion on:-

(c) A Proposal for Modernising the Area Sub-Committee system; and

(d) Resources for Planning.

Area Sub-Committee System

H.3 The report on proposals for modernising the current Area Sub-Committee system that has existed since Waverley's inception in 1974 has arisen in response to continued criticism from external evaluators and Inspectors.

H.4 Significant improvements have already been made and critical building blocks are in place. Work is in hand to improve the pre-application discussion process and the innovative Development Control Consultative Forums are part of that initiative. New arrangements are being put in place to consider at an earlier stage Section 106 agreements so that they accompany an application submission.

H.5 The roles of the Area Sub-Committees and Members are critical to service delivery. It is one service where members are the service delivery mechanism, working alongside their officers. It is critical that the decision-making mechanisms remain in tune with the new planning system and deliver efficient and quality decisions.

H.6 All of these initiatives on the planning application process are designed to improve speed of decision and maintain quality of decision-making. The objective of the Council is to meet the Government’s BVPI targets and changes to the Area Sub-Committee system have been recognised by the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Executive.

H.7 The ODPM has concluded through its research on planning performance that a common characteristic of a failing authority is an area committee system. This is commonly associated with higher servicing costs, parochial views dominating over a wider Borough view and inconsistency in decision making. Whilst Members of the Council still have a high regard for the current system, the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee in its review of Development Control last year concluded that the weight of evidence demonstrated that a review of the area committee structure was appropriate and the Executive subsequently endorsed this.

H.8 The ODPM evaluation has also highlighted concerns about the frequency of Committees. Addison Associates, the ODPM evaluators have recommended that Committees should meet at least every three weeks in order for decisions to be made within the eight-week target dates for determination. In addition there, is concern about delays due to the number of deferrals for site visits and referrals up to Development Control Committee, which mean determination targets are missed.

H.9 Any new committee system needs to meet the following objectives:-
Balance both local and borough wide views. Reduce the incidence of deferrals and referrals. Reduce the servicing costs Provide confidence to the public in the decision-making mechanisms.

H.10 Following the release of the ODPM desk top evaluation of the service in February 2005, the then Chairman of the Development Control Committee, Chairmen of the Area Sub-Committees, and the Deputy Leader, and the Portfolio Holder for Planning met for an informal discussion about the Council’s response to the criticism. A range of options were discussed from do nothing, to amalgamating the current Committees to form two larger area committees, or having A and B Committees which met on a borough wide basis. At that time there was a strong consensus to explore the Committee A and B model.

H.11 This model would comprise the following elements:-
Members from across the Borough would sit on each committee. There should be a committee meeting at least every three weeks. Each Committee would meet alternately and at least every six weeks.

H.12 Charnwood Borough Council in Leicestershire has operated the Committee A and B model for approximately five years. Officers have discussed the merits of the model with Committee Services from Charnwood to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the system. Charnwood Borough Council is currently meeting all of its BVPI 109 targets for major, minor and other applications. The Committee system is considered to be an important component of the application process that enables targets to be met.

H.13 The main elements of the Charnwood Borough Council system are:-

There are Plans Committees 1 and 2 Twelve members sit on each committee with other Members in reserve. There are on average 10 items on each agenda but this can range from 6 to 20.
Meetings commence at 5.00 pm but are preceded by Committee site visits. Most sites are visited in advance by coach. Applications that are deferred are reported back to the same committee.

H.14 The Modernising Planning Special Interest Group at its meeting on 29th June 2005, examined the model set out below as the basis for further detailed work.

ProposalReason/justification
That the current Development Control Committee and its Area Development Control Committees be abandoned in favour of a Development Management Committee 1 and Development Management Committee 2The Management of Development is a Borough wide responsibility and is not confined to local areas.

The current system is not efficient and too slow. A Committee 1 and 2 system has been demonstrated to be more efficient in meeting BVPI targets.
Membership of the Committees is drawn from across the Borough and in proportion to party representation.To achieve balance between local and borough wide perspectives.
That there is between 15 and 20 Members on each Committee. This enables the wide interest of Members in planning matters to be retained.
That the substitution system be abandoned for Development Management Committees. With greater membership the need for member substitutes is reduced.
There should be a Development Management Committee every three weeks with each committee meeting every six weeks.The three weekly cycle is the recommended minimum by ODPM evaluators.
Charnwood found that two weekly cycles were too onerous.

With greater emphasis on Development Control Consultative Forums additional time needs to be created to manage these events.
Committee site visits should take place in advance of the Committee meeting. It is suggested that this should occur the day before the meeting. This will reduce the delay in making decisions by avoiding deferrals for site visits.
Visual presentations of plans to be given at all Development Management Committee meetings.Improve the quality of information to assist Member decision-making and avoid unnecessary site visits.
Where a decision is not in accordance with the Development Plan or where a decision in the opinion of officers is unsound it should be referred to the alternative committee for scrutiny. Decisions should be made in accordance with the Development Plan. Where there are departures from the plan it would be wise to have appropriate checks and balance in the system so that such decisions are properly scrutinised. Referral to the following committee would reduce delay.
Where a decision is of major importance, e.g. East Street Regeneration then the two Committees should come together as a Special Development Management Committee.Applications of major significance or controversy have often resulted in a referral to Council. If the Membership of the Development Management Committees is between 15 and 20 then potentially up to 40 Members could be involved in the planning decision. In this case those members are likely to be those with both planning interests and experience. Such a system should avoid the need to refer matters to Council.
The officer report be reorganised into a more logical format.The current format starts with consultation responses and objections. It would be logical to start with a description of the proposal and any background, then an outline of the planning policies before reporting comments and concluding with an officer consideration.
Remove the C Schedule from the agenda and make this information available to members outside of the committee system. To retain this information on the C schedule would either mean printing it twice so that each Committee has the same information or accepting that each Committee will have different information. This might mean members may find gaps in their information.

The important point is that members should know what decisions are made under officer-delegated powers. This can best and most efficiently done by circulating a list on a regular basis
Remove from the agenda enforcement updates but replace it with a quarterly performance report on enforcement.The current system emphasises the failures of the service rather than our successes. Reporting successes would help to establish a more positive image of the enforcement service and this will assist in managing individual cases. The current reporting system because of the exempt status of cases, limits the information officers are able to give on individual case without prejudicing the Councils position. This often causes frustration to both members and officers. Such limits would not apply to information that Officers could circulate in confidence outside of the committee arena.
Committees to meet at The Council offices in Godalming and be available on web-cast. Agendas will include applications from across the Borough and Godalming is recognised as the administrative centre of the Borough. The technology exists at Godalming to provide visual presentations with minimal effort. Web casting facilities are available at Godalming, although there are plans for mobile web casting equipment.

H.15 The Special Interest Group agreed, in principle, that the current Development Control Committee and its four Area Sub-Committees be discontinued in favour of a Development Control Committee with Development Management Sub-Committee 1 and Development Management Sub-Committee 2 system, as proposed. (The scheme agreed in principle by the SIG is set out in the diagram below). It was agreed that if an application is of major significance then this could be referred to the new Development Control Committee which would be made up of Members of the two Sub-Committees. The Solicitor to the Council advised that the delegation scheme should have a hierarchy and two Committees at the same level were unable to refer decisions to each other. Detailed terms of reference would be considered at a later stage.

H.16 The SIG agreed that membership of the Development Management Sub-Committees should be around twenty, although some Members did express concern that this could be ‘unwieldy’. The SIG confirmed the importance of ‘local representation’ that existed under the existing scheme of Area Sub-Committees. It was therefore agreed that membership of each Committee should be representative and be taken from the four areas currently covered by the four Area Sub-Committees (for example this could be five members from each area). It was agreed that there should be a meeting of one of the Sub-Committees every three weeks (alternately) with each Sub-Committee meeting once in each six week period.

H.17 It was agreed that the Development Control Committee could have a membership of 40 members, which would allow a significant number of Members to be involved in the process (including those with the greatest interest in planning). Members agreed that the ability to refer applications to Council should be removed.

H.18. The SIG agreed that details of the proposal needed further consideration and clarification and that this be considered at future meetings. The SIG agreed in particular that the issue of site visits and how and when these should be arranged needed to be looked at further. Members did emphasise that presentations at Committee needed improving which would reduce the need for site visits. Members agreed that further planning meetings under the new scheme should be held in the Council Offices in Godalming where better facilities were available.

H.19 The proposed timetable for the implementation of the changes is as follows:-

29th June 2005:Consideration and recommendations by the Modernising Planning SIG of an outline proposal.
4th July 2005:
(deferred to 13th July)
Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee
6th July 2005:Development Control Committee
12th July 2005:Executive considers Modernising SIG’s recommendation and makes recommendation to Council.
19th July 2005:Council considers Executive's recommendation on outline scheme.

H.20 The Executive has noted the decisions of the SIG, the Development Control Committee and the Towns and Parishes Meeting. The comments of the ELOS are being reported separately to Council.

H.21 The Towns and Parishes key observations were as follows:-

1. They wanted improved briefing and training as soon as possible.

2. The Council should explore ways of providing for a continuing role for Town and Parish Councils.

3. Towns and Parishes needed a better way of feeding into the work on the Local Development Framework.

H.22 For the moment, the Executive

RECOMMENDS that:-

24. in principle, the model for two Development Management Sub-Committees to cover the whole Borough be agreed; and

25. subject to Council endorsement, the officers be asked to report on detailed terms of reference, delegated functions, procedure rules and timetable of meetings for the September and October meetings of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Development Control Committee and Constitution SIG with a view to the Executive, on 11th October, putting a final scheme forward to the 25th October Council meeting.

comms/O&S3/2005-06/034