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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 04/07/2005
Development Control - "Process Improvements" Project

Annexe 1

Waverley Borough Council

Development Control
‘Process Improvements’ Project
March – July 2005

Final Report by:

Ray Evans

Croft Consulting
(Planning, Development and Improvement Specialists)

14th June 2005


1. Reasons for Project, and Project Brief

2. Stages of Project

2.1 Familiarisation
2.2 Detailed Work
2.3 Development of Proposals
2.4 Implementation

3. Recommendations Regarding Further Work

Key Documents

Proposed Specification for Process Review

‘Blue Sky’ cartoons (ideal and present)

Notes of Away-Day

Provisional Action Plan

Terms of Reference for ‘Task and Finish’ Groups

Interim Report

Draft ‘Final’ Report

‘Output’ and other associated documents

Development Control Practice Notes
Application / Validation Check Lists
Consultation Check Lists
‘How can I Find Out…..?’ information sheets
Good Practice Research Summary
‘Trees’ Process Notes (from discussion with Admin Assistant)
Overview of Application Process (flow chart)

1. Reasons for Project and Project Brief

The Council’s reasons for commissioning this work, and its overall and specific objectives, are as set out in the paper, “Proposed Specifications for a Review of Procedures in Development Control”. In essence, the brief was to work with staff in order to : Identify blockages / problems in existing processes for determining planning applications and ways of overcoming these; and

Capture new, improved processes and procedures in an Electronic Procedures Manual to be made available to all staff.

2. Stages of Project

The key stages of the project were as follows:

2.1 Initial familiarisation with current arrangements, difficulties, staff perceptions etc.

2.2 Detailed work to gain a clear understanding of existing procedures and identify blockages / problems and possible ways of overcoming them. This included a 2-day ’away-day’ with a cross-section of staff from each of the 3 departmental teams, and ‘shadowing’ of the process from post-opening to the issuing of decision notices.

2.3 The development of proposals for change via the formation of a Steering Group comprising myself, the Development Control and Policy Manager and the 3 team leaders, and a series of ‘Task and Finish Groups’ comprising volunteers from across the department.

2.4 Implementation of Proposals.

The work undertaken, or to be undertaken, in each of these stages is described below ;

Stage 2.1: Initial familiarisation with present arrangements, difficulties and perceptions.

Examination of relevant Waverley BC reports and documents including principally those listed in the ‘Proposed Specification’ document.

Initial discussions with senior management and key staff members (principally in the ‘Support’ Team).

A ‘ blue sky’ session with the Support Manager and her deputy at which the ‘ideal’ and present arrangements were captured in pictorial (cartoon) form.

Stage 2.2: Detailed work mapping existing processes, difficulties and possible solutions A 2 day ‘away-day’ with staff from each of the 3 main functional teams; followed by

‘Shadowing’ of the entire process from the post opening to issuing decision notices.

The ‘away-day’ was extremely effective in clarifying and capturing existing processes, and difficulties, and highlighting possible process improvements. The shadowing exercise involved sitting with a variety of staff as they undertook each detailed stage of the process, and was again extremely effective in beginning to highlight backlogs, delays, duplications, double handling etc.

Stage 2.3: Development of proposals for change

As a result of the away day, shadowing and other work with particular staff, a 38-point ‘Provisional Action Plan’, identifying possible short and medium term actions, was produced for consideration by senior management.

At this point a Steering Group was set up comprising myself, the Development Control and Policy Manager, and the 3 team leaders (or their deputies), to oversee the development of the project.

Six key areas of improvement were identified from the Provisional Action Plan which it was felt would have the most immediate impact in terms of streamlining the development control process. These were:

1. Pre-application Discussions 2. Better Quality Applications

3. Consultation Arrangement

4. Validation

5. Committee Reports and Decision Notices

6. ‘Major’ Applications

In order to develop specific, detailed proposals in each of these areas, a series of short-term ‘Task and Finish’ groups comprising volunteers from throughout the Department, were established. These groups were facilitated by myself and, in the case of ‘Pre-application Discussions’ and ‘Major Applications’, Ian Ellis. They met on 2-3 occasions each.

On the basis of the detailed work carried out by these groups, a series of Development Control Practice Notes were produced, and other, associated improvements devised.

Stage 2.4: Implementation process

The proposed changes in each of these key areas (including relevant documentation) were presented to staff at a briefing held on 14th June, with a view to implementation on a trial basis week commencing 20th June. The intention then is for a mini-review of the practicability and effectiveness of the main changes to be carried out during the first part of July. A more comprehensive review of the changes, in terms of their application and effectiveness, is scheduled for approximately 3 months time.

Recommendations regarding further work.

1. There are a number of ‘quick wins’ within the original 38-point Provisional Action Plan which can be implemented relatively easily. These need to be identified (by the Steering Group) and actioned.

2. Once these ‘quick-wins’ and the major changes in the 6 key areas have been implemented, the remaining proposals of the Action Plan need to be examined in detail, and implemented as necessary.

3. The process improvement work carried out to date has been confined to planning applications. Consideration should be given to similar work being done in relation to Enforcement and Appeals. (Improved processes relating to applications for works to trees have been formulated and now need to be progressed.)

4. Review of the effectiveness, and possible extension, of the Fast Track (Accredited Agents’) Scheme.

5. Development of wider ranging, more strategic role for Support Services Manager.

6. Development of the Agents’ Forum.

7. Consideration of developing an ongoing dialogue with other key stakeholders, notably applicants and the public at large. An (independent) customer survey at this juncture would provide a baseline against which to measure the effect of these improvements.

8. Possible re-organisation of the ‘Support Services’ function to provide a more effective separation / distinction between ‘front facing’, customer orientated tasks, and the more detailed technical ’back room’ work.

9. Urgent consideration of ongoing training needs, and delivery options, for the Planning Enquiry Team.

10. The development of a forum, or mechanism for the effective resolution of differences of opinion regarding key issues such as the current scanning debate and interpretation of policy RD2.

11. The development of more harmonious and effective working relationships with legal services, particularly in relation to the ‘front-loading’ of Section 106’s.

12. The establishment of an ‘IT User Group’ to meet on a fairly frequent basis to iron out practical difficulties in the operation of currently available IT, and identify system improvements.

13. Early discussions with key consultees (internal and external) to agree consultation protocols, and encourage greater use of available IT.

14. In light of staff recruitment difficulties, the development of a career progression system to enable the Department to ‘grow its own’ (this could be particularly valuable given the high incidence of likely retirements in 2 – 3 years’ time).

Possibly overriding all the above is the need to address staffing / workload issues. Whilst I found a great deal of enthusiasm and commitment for improving processes, there is a very strong sense of staff being stretched to the limit, ‘flying by the seat of their pants’, with high stress levels as a result of excessive workloads over sustained periods of time. This is evidenced in part by the high case loads of planning officers, well in excess of recommended levels.