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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 25/05/2004
THE PLANNING SERVICE - CURRENT PRESSURES AND ISSUES



Summary & Purpose
This report is prepared at the request of the Planning Portfolio Holder. It aims to explain the current workload and issues impacting on the Planning Service. It then seeks to explain how those matters are currently being managed and makes suggestions as to what could be considered in the short term to help improve and maintain performance to meet or exceed Government Best Value Performance Indicators for 2004/5. The report also flags longer-term issues that will need to be considered later in the budget and service plan cycle.

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


APPENDIX I
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

EXECUTIVE - 25TH MAY 2004



Title:
THE PLANNING SERVICE - CURRENT PRESSURES AND ISSUES

[Wards Affected: All]


Summary and purpose:

This report is prepared at the request of the Planning Portfolio Holder. It aims to explain the current workload and issues impacting on the Planning Service. It then seeks to explain how those matters are currently being managed and makes suggestions as to what could be considered in the short term to help improve and maintain performance to meet or exceed Government Best Value Performance Indicators for 2004/5. The report also flags longer-term issues that will need to be considered later in the budget and service plan cycle.



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

Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe, Healthy and Active Communities
Local Economy
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive

E-Government implications:

The ICT systems and their development is a critical component of continuing service delivery. The report makes specific reference to recent and imminent ICT developments already in hand. The report takes no account of the implications of recently published Government targets on ICT and Service delivery and these will need to be dealt with elsewhere.

Resource and legal implications:

The recommendations may have implications requiring additional resources depending on the Executive’s conclusions.

Two recommendations may have direct investment implications for the current financial year and three others for longer term budgeting but these could be outweighed by Planning Delivery Grant (PDG) reward.

1.

That the Executive considers investing the full PDG into the Planning Service resulting in a further 21,000 being available to meet Service Targets.

2. That the Executive considers allocating additional budget provision for enforcement, including additional legal services to facilitate a number of prosecutions. (45,000)

3. The conversion of temporary posts to full time permanent posts will have no impact on the current financial year. Any future funding of posts will need to be reviewed as part of the normal budget processes.

4. Additional resources may be required during October to March when the High Hedges legislation comes in to effect. A further report will be submitted once officers have had an opportunity to consider the Government’s guidance on this new legislation.

5. If Development Control BVPIs are met then Planning Delivery Grant reward might be in the order of 200,000 to 600,000 based on distribution patterns for 2004/05.



Introduction

1. This report has been prepared at the request of the Planning Portfolio Holder on behalf of the Executive with the purpose of allowing the Executive to consider the current performance and service issues impacting on the planning service and in the context of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment.

2. The report is structured into four parts:-

The current context. Current Priorities Consolidation initiatives. Future priorities

The Current Context

3. The headline message is that workloads across the department are at record highs and current trends indicate they are continuing to grow. Two years ago the Council resolved to invest further in the service by creating additional temporary posts based on the workloads at that time. There has been a time lag in filling these posts, particularly at senior level and above and it is only since February that the Major Sites Team has had a full compliment of staff.

4. At the same time the department has been implementing a significant change programme including restructuring of the department, the development of I.T. and staff training in line with the Best Value Improvement Plan. This journey of improvement is explained in the diagram at Annexe 1.


5. The Government has recently raised the stakes in terms of under-performing authorities through the distribution of Planning Delivery Grant (PDG). Whilst Waverley received 96,250 for its work in relation to policy and meeting housing needs no grant was awarded as a result of our Development Control performance against Government speed targets. It was clear in the Government’s distribution of PDG that significant grant money followed success in hitting Development Control speed targets. This ranged between 100,000 and 400,000 dependent on the development control targets met. With other policy targets etc some Surrey Authorities received in the order of 600,000 The Government has indicated that it will extend this grant scheme into 2005/6. Whilst there are no guarantees of reward, this is a significant resource that could be potentially available to Waverley.

6. The Portfolio Holder and the Executive have informally indicated that officers should positively chase the PDG with the objective of securing enhanced grant support to Planning Services and this may self-finance future initiatives.

7. Further explanation of the current workload context is contained in Annexe 2.

Current Priorities

8. The Executive agreed the current Development Control priorities in September 2002 for the reasons set out in the table.

Work PrioritiesJustification
      1. Appeals
Failure to meet Planning Inspectorate timetables significantly prejudices ability of the Council to defend its decisions.
2. High Priority Planning Complaints.Priority cases are identified in the Enforcement Charter. Failure to respond results in irretrievable situations.
3. Processing planning and other applicationsKey performance indicator in Comprehensive Performance Assessment.
4. Planning ComplaintsKey area for members
      5. Pre application and other enquires.
Outranked by other priorities.

9. In terms of meeting these priorities the department has not yet failed to defend the Council’s decisions but Members may note that the significant increase in appeal work, (217 appeals in 2003/4) has impacted on the capacity to hit other targets. The increase in lodged appeals reflects the national trend and is not a symptom of Waverley’s current practices or performance. A new Government BVPI will measure the number of appeals against refusals from April 2004


10. In relation to high priority planning complaints, the department is able to demonstrate improved performance in this area with four stop notices being served during the year. Continued energy has been successfully expended on Wonersh Village Shop, The Three Horse Shoes Public House at Thursley, the A281 Showmen site and Lydia Park. Four new gypsy incursions on to land were reported over the last two weeks and again these are likely to consume significant energy.

11. Priority 3 is essentially the current core business of the department and the government has highlighted the need for Planning Authorities to deliver quicker decisions. The department is responding to these targets and it is hoped that Members are encouraged by the improving trend in meeting these targets. This has been achieved by a number of productivity initiatives flowing from the best value review. The major area of concern is improving performance on minor applications. The government has put the Council on notice that it must achieve 58% determination of these applications within 8 weeks for the current financial year. The national target is 65%. Minor applications are defined as applications for less than 10 new dwellings and commercial developments of less than 1,000 sq.m of gross floor space.

12. Other enforcement work is currently fourth priority. Again the department can demonstrate improved performance against the Best Value review base line information. For example the number of investigations being completed already exceeds the number of breaches being received in 2000/01. The numbers of breaches being reported is over 500 per year and this reflects generally increased activity in the development industry, improved information on planning decisions to the general public, and to some extent, an underestimation of the true workloads which existed in 2000/01.

13. The last priority is related to general enquiries and pre application discussions. Not surprisingly this is where the majority of service complaints arise and are mainly concerned about the time taken to respond.

14. It is worth noting that there are two other core areas of work in which the department is involved. The first is the creation and formulation of policy and associated processes and documents. At the current time members will be aware that the Policy Team is working hard on two key policy agendas. The first is the anticipated enactment of the Planning and Compensation Bill in July and preparation for the new Lawful Development Framework (LDF). This will have fundamental implications for the Planning Service as a whole but as yet the requirements are uncertain. The second policy agenda is the Regional Spatial Plan (RSP), currently being prepared by SEERA.

15. The second core work area is the provision of information on land and property, e.g. planning histories, searches, constraints, policies, housing data, business data, and research.

Consolidation of Resources

16. In order to tackle these competing priorities, action has been taken.

17. Over the past three years the Council has recognised the need to continually improve the service and respond to increases in workloads by approving additional resources for the Planning Service as follows:-
2002/2003. 85,000 for three additional posts to meet 2002 workload levels. (Met from additional fee income of 80,000) 2003/2004. 75,000 for Planning Advice Team posts and I.T. resource. (2.75 posts met from PDG)

18. In terms of managing the Department’s resources the following management initiatives have been implemented.

General Initiatives

A review and streamlining of administration processes. The introduction of IT systems guided by principles of single handling and performance management information. Management Development and structured training for staff. The introduction of Public Speaking
To outsource some of the Public Inquiry and Informal Hearing work from vacant posts. Regular inter departmental liaison between Legal and Planning on programming and priorities. Regular officer/management blitz sessions on enforcement cases. Officers drafting instructions and notices.
Introduction of performance management systems, monitoring and reporting. Use of time critical lists. The engagement of private contractors to cover vacant posts from PDG, (15,000). Weekly focus meetings on new major applications.
The establishment of the Planning Advice Team with PDG money (60,000) with a view to relieving pressure from planning officers. Telephone Enquiry Management System. Introduction of a systematic approach to “neighbourhood” pre application advice.

19. Initiatives already being developed and anticipated to be implemented this year are the following:-

Initiative Predicted Outcome
Expansion of Fast Track Self-Certification SchemeWill speed up registration system and ease capacity in Support Team.
PARSOL Expert Permitted Development SystemShould reduce general enquiries and enable customers to answer their own queries on line
Integration of IT Systems i.e. SX3, MapInfo, and CaminoImproved information management and retrieval systems will reduce time taken to complete research tasks.
Access to Planning Information and Planning Applications through the web siteImproved information to the public reducing general enquires
Improved presentation of plans to Development Control CommitteesAdditional task but will improve the quality of debate and public satisfaction levels with decision.

20. In addition, Members will be aware of the recent letter signed by the Planning Portfolio Holder, the Chairman of Development Control, and Managers of the Service to all members seeking support to two new initiatives. These were the inclusion of single dwellings as “small scale development” within the delegation scheme and encouraging negotiations on development proposals outside of the application process. The former will significantly help the Council to address the minor application BVPI and the latter all DC BVPIs The latter will also involve changing our priorities on pre application discussions to facilitate this. As a result of concern about the delegation of single dwellings, the actions in the letter have been suspended pending consideration of this report.

21. Managers remain concerned that the current workloads on priorities 1 and 2 and 3 are such that there is no flexibility in the capacity of the department to respond to short-term shifts in the workloads or to staff vacancies without impacting on some targets or on budgets. The government’s research into the resourcing of planning departments suggested that in terms of Development Control application workloads and excluding other areas e.g. enforcement there should be a planning officer per every 150 to 200 applications. Based on 2003/4 workloads this equates to between 14 and 18 planning officers to manage planning applications. The current establishment is 15 planning officers posts and this equates to 186 applications per post.

22. There is increasing concern on the part of managers regarding the amount of time and energy required to manage the department’s vacancies, including some long-term sickness. This has the effect of increasing pressure on staff at work to the

extent that it could become harmful pressure. This situation is not helped by the combination of 10 temporary contracts in the department, a volatile job market for planning skills and the fuelling of this by PDG. Nine of the temporary contracts expire by the end of the financial year 2004/05.

23. Managers have also noted some frustration on the part of Members in bringing what they perceive to be minor enforcement matters to Committee in preference to tackling those cases awaiting prosecution.

24. Finally, managers are concerned that the resources for the additional tasks associated with the High Hedges legislation and its enforcement have yet to be resolved. It is anticipated that a bulge of complaints will be received when the legislation comes into effect in October 2004.

Short Term Options

25. The following are suggested as short-term options and are endorsed by the Chief Officer Group: -

1. Members may wish to revisit the priorities above and either reaffirm or change them. Officers recommend that pre-application negotiations be promoted to priority three. This will have consequent impacts on service delivery for lower priority areas. 2. Consider scrapping all ten temporary posts in favour of permanent posts to strengthen the Council’s position in the market and to encourage the retention of existing staff. 3. Consider including within the scheme of delegation the ability of Officers to determine actions on minor breaches of planning control in line with the delegation scheme for applications. This would avoid officers having to bring minor issues to Committee and release some energy form the system in resolving these minor cases. 4. Consider resourcing external support for prosecutions, (which continues to be a source of frustration to members) in order to make an impact on the enforcement cases that appear on Area Committee agendas. 5. Confirm the approach adopted on delegation of decisions on single dwellings. 6. Confirm the approach to encouraging negotiations on development proposals outside of the application process. 7. Consider utilising the remaining 21,000 received from PDG to invest into the service to facilitate some flexibility of resource to meet the BVPI targets. As the PDG is already in the base budget as income at the level of 96,260, this would require the approval of a supplementary estimate to the Planning budget. 8. Consider resourcing the High Hedges Legislation tasks that come into effect in October.


Future Issues

26. In addition to the current issues, there are new issues on the horizon. These need to be considered as part of the longer-term corporate strategy for service delivery integral with the financial strategy and budget setting.

27. The delivery of national targets will remain important to both the Government and to the Council. These targets are linked to Treasury Public Service Agreements and to the distribution of grant to Councils. The BVPIs cover both Development Control and Policy work but, interestingly, not enforcement of planning control.

28. A critical success factor for the future of the service is the delivery of the Local Development Framework. (LDF) As reported above the impacts and implications of this are uncertain but it is likely that additional human resource with new skill sets will be required to implement this programme. At this time it is not clear whether this can be resourced from within the organisation by bolting on to existing activity e.g. Community Strategy work, Leisure Strategy work, Housing Strategy work, etc or by utilising the voluntary sector or other organisations e.g. Parish and Town Councils, adjoining authorities or the County Council.

29. The Bill proposes to introduce significant changes to the planning system and an effective LDF may have impacts by reducing the resource requirements on traditional Development Control activity in favour of policy creation and community involvement in the longer term. The Council is relatively well placed to meet the challenges that this change in legislation will bring. It has an up to date development plan and it is hoped that many of the policies can be saved. The Council has an experienced and enthusiastic policy team capable of meeting the content challenges of the new plan. However, it is fast becoming apparent that the new requirements of community involvement are likely to be resource hungry and the team will need help with this. The Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) will be a statutory obligation and itself subject to public examination. It will lay down those whom the Council will talk to and how that will be done ensuring the whole of its community is involved as appropriate. Any policy will be subject to an audit trail to ensure the SCI has been followed and if not the policy could be held to be unsound by an inspector. The Council is well placed in terms of its history of consultation on the Local Plan, Planning for Real and Health Checks and exploring the arts as a communication technique. However, the ambitious programme of the Government to have in place a new LDF by April 2007 means that the Council will have to project manage a range of policies in parallel. The new system will raise new issues in terms of the role of Members in this community involvement process and this will need to be explored at some time. Members will recall the LDF workshops on this issue.

30. As mentioned earlier, the regional agenda is becoming more important and the ability of Waverley to network with its Surrey Authorities and other authorities in the South East should not be underestimated if our lone voice is to be heard.

31. In relation to Development Control, the enforcement workload has grown to such proportions that it is again becoming a distraction to other targets. It is now considered that it is of such critical mass that a dedicated team focusing on enforcement can be considered in order to meet all service area performance targets, to develop new skills and commitment to this area of work and to move high profile cases to prosecution.


32. The legislation governing Development Control is detailed and complex. Any increase in planning officers’ workloads is likely to result in a proportionate increase in demand for legal advice and support. For example the increase in appeals will require more legal support in instructing counsel. Against the current background of a proportionate increase in demand for legal support there has been a reduction of support available, as a specialist legal planning advisor has left the Council. There will be a hiatus while any replacement is appointed; at the same time as demand from members for litigation and demand for application related advice increases. Some outsourcing will be necessary to keep pace with increased activity in Development Control work.

33. The longer term impacts of High Hedge enforcement need to be considered and planned for.

34. The new planning landscape will require a range of generic skills alongside professional and technical skills. This together with the competitiveness of Waverley in the current difficult job market points to a need for a review of workforce planning.

35. This report is not intended to deal with these longer-term issues and it is acknowledged that these will need to be returned to as part of the Service Planning and budget processes later in the year.

Recommendation

It is recommended that the Executive:-

1. notes the current workloads and initiatives being undertaken to manage these; 2. re-affirms the Development Control priorities with the exception that pre-application discussions are regarded alongside processing applications as a priority 3 task; 3. endorses, subject to 2 above, the principle of encouraging negotiation outside of the formal application process and officers be instructed to formally amend the Service Charter accordingly; 4. confirms that single dwellings are small-scale developments for the purposes of the delegation scheme and fall within delegated decisions to officers; 5. instructs officers to report back on the implications of the implementation and enforcement of high hedge legislation; 6. instructs officers to report back on the longer-term implications of the Planning and Compensation Bill, the regional planning agenda for the planning service, and options for improving and maintaining enforcement and development control performance over the next three years; and 7. invites the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee to assist in informing any future report and recommendations.

In addition, the Council is recommended as follows:-

8. that current temporary posts within the department be converted to permanent posts;
9. 10. that the full Planning Delivery Grant be invested in the Planning Service requiring a supplementary estimate of 21,000 to meet service targets; and 11. that a supplementary estimate of 45,000 be approved to resource a minimum of three enforcement prosecutions at an average cost of 15,000 per case.



Background Papers (DoP&D)

Arup Economics report on Resourcing of Local Planning Authorities, Ove Arup and Partners International Limited report on Planning Fees.



CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: John Anderson Telephone: 01483 523298

E-mail: jaanderson@waverley.gov.uk


comms/executive/2004-05/035 37484