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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 27/03/2007
Further Improvements to the Planning Service



APPENDIX P
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

EXECUTIVE - 27TH MARCH 2007

Title:

FURTHER IMPROVEMENTS TO THE PLANNING SERVICE
[Wards Affected: All]

Note pursuant to Section 100B(5) of the Local Government Act 1972

An annexe to this report contains exempt information by virtue of which the public is likely to be excluded during the item to which the report relates, as specified in Paragraph 1 of the revised Part I of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972, namely:-

Information relating to any individual.

Summary and purpose:

The Modernising Planning Special Interest Group, at its meeting on 28th February 2007, considered the issues regarding workloads and service delivery within the Planning and Development Department. This report builds on the interim report to the Executive on 5th September and subsequently reported to Council on 17th October 2006. That report looked at some short-term fixes to manage the current high workloads. This report has a longer time horizon and seeks longer-term solutions to service issues.

This report sets out current service issues and how these might be addressed. It explores the budget implications and financial planning aspects of further service improvements. In particular it explores the prospect of charging those who directly receive planning services in order to enhance the planning service at no additional cost to the Council taxpayer. A separate and more detailed report on this agenda sets out possible charging regimes should Members wish to adopt the approach.

Social/Community Implications:

The planning service is at the heart of protecting and enhancing the quality of life within the Borough. It is recognised as a high priority within the Corporate Plan in delivering wider community benefits. It is important that the Service continues to perform well even in the face of unprecedented work pressures.

E-Government implications:

There are no direct ICT implications arising from this report. ICT will continue to be a key delivery tool for the service.

Resource and legal implications:

The resource implications are explained in the body of the report.

There may be legal implications if the service begins to fail in meeting reasonable expectations of its customers. For example the Ombudsman has already expressed a growing concern about the length of time the Council is taking to respond to complaints. If the situation is not resolved then there will be a risk of maladministration occurring with damaging implications for the service. There may be liability implications for charging for certain services.

Introduction

1. This report has been prepared in the context that:

- One of the Council’s key objectives in its Corporate Plan is the further enhancement of Planning Services to deliver community objectives.
- Workloads on the Planning Service are increasing and remain at unsustainable levels.
- Whilst key performance targets have been met and exceeded it has been at the expense of other service areas.
- The Planning Service is currently in the midst of significant change at both a national and local level and maintaining the public’s confidence in the service is a high priority.
- The new planning system has barely been born yet it has already been reviewed by Kate Barker in her paper published in December 2006.
- There is a scarcity of planning skills at a national level and this is resulting in a difficult and volatile labour market. Waverley currently has some organisational constraints that obstruct the development of “home grown planners” to senior and principal officer levels.
- Budget planning remains extremely difficult in the context of the dependency of a significant proportion of planning income on few applications and uncertainty about future allocations of Planning Delivery Grant.

2. In putting this report together the most authoritative and up-to-date sources of data that could be obtained have been used i.e. Cipfa 2005/06 Estimates, Audit Commission Best Value data and Surrey Planning Collaboration Group benchmarking study. A comparator group of shire district authorities in the South East has been used based on those authorities that process similar numbers of planning applications i.e. between around 2,000 to 3,000 applications per year.

3. The report focuses on Development Control services only, where the current service is under stress. The Policy Team is currently working at full capacity to meet the LDS but this work is planned rather than reactive.

4. The report is structured as follows

- A review of the improvement journey so far.
- The problems and service issues to be considered.
- The Waverley resource context.
- The Case Load per officer dilemma.
- An alternative approach to the caseload issue.
- Charging for Planning Services.
- Recommendations.

Review of the improvement journey

5. The improvement journey started with the Best Value Review in 2000 when an action plan was developed to improve the Planning Service. At that time the service was rated as fair with promising prospects for improvements. Nevertheless, it was criticised for poor Development Control performance, enforcement, lack of performance management and inefficient and inconsistent decision making processes.

6. The improvement strategy involved the following headlines:
- Maximising the use of scarce planning officer time on priority tasks.
- The Council explicitly agreeing those Development Control priority tasks in the order of,
o Planning Appeals
o Priority 1 enforcement cases, e.g. the showman’s site off the A287
o Planning applications
o Other enforcement cases
o General and other enquiries
- Streamlining processes
- New registration and consultation processes
- New S106 agreement arrangements
- Use of IT in report generation
- Streamlined written representation appeals
- Clustering hearings with planning inspectorate
- Restructuring of Development Control Teams to match skills with tasks.
- Performance management culture introduced.
- Customer Service Team created (Planning Enquiry Team)
- Enforcement Team created.
- Planning Surgeries introduced
- Accredited agents scheme and forums introduced
- Parsol, e-government and planning portal developed
- Development Control Consultative Forums introduced.
- Delegation levels increased.
- New Committee system implemented.
- Public speaking at committee implemented
- Surrey Planning Collaboration phase 1 commenced.

7. These actions have significantly improved the planning service, moving it out of a “Red Light Authority” to one where the most recent Best Value Inspection draft report has concluded that Waverley now has a good planning service and continues to have promising prospects for future service improvements.

The Waverley Resource Context

8. Waverley commenced the improvement plan from a relatively low resource base. The Council has invested significantly in the service since 2001 and particularly through committing 100% of its Planning Delivery Grant to the improvement of the service. Nevertheless the Audit Commission confirmed, in its recent report, that expenditure on planning remains modest being within the lower quartile of spend per population.

9. Whilst the improvement strategy has produced significant efficiencies within the department these have only allowed the department to barely keep pace with the increase in workloads over the last two years. At the time of the Best Value Inspection in 2004 and the ODPM Standard Authorities Inspection in early 2005, caseloads were around 176 per officer. This level was considered to be unsustainable by both inspectors. Caseloads are currently at 200 cases per officer and there is an urgent need to recalibrate the resources to manage this level of work.

Cost of the Service

10. The following chart compares the net cost (excluding capital charges) of the development control service between Waverley and other similar districts. Gross costs of DC alone were not available.

Fig 1

Source: Cipfa 2005/06 Planning & Development Statistics – LPAs in the South East processing 2,000 – 3,000 planning applications per year.

11. The Expenditure information shown in Figs 1 and 2 demonstrate the relatively low costs and expenditure on development control services in relation to authorities processing similar numbers of applications. This supports the Audit Commission’s conclusions in its letter earlier this year.

12. The Annual Audit and Inspection Letter from the Audit Commission makes the following comments

13. Whilst the table shows the most recent and available comparative data, members will be aware that by investing PDG into the service the net expenditure on development control for the current financial year is 1.15 million and 1.29 million in 2007/8. It is understood that other planning authorities have similarly invested in their services and it is anticipated that this will be demonstrated in future comparable data.

Fig 2
Source: Cipfa 2005/06 Planning & Development Statistics – LPAs in the South East processing 2,000 – 3,000 planning applications per year.

Income and Workload

14. The challenge in managing the Development Control service remains the ability to react to the development industry. The barometer for this is the planning application workload although work on planning applications accounts for between 60-70% of an officer’s time. The remainder of time being spent upon other aspects of managing the development process before the submission of an application and post decision activity together with general enquiries.

Fig 3

15. The number of registered planning applications increased by 16% from 2005 to 2006 with the department receiving 404 more applications during the same period. In addition to this increase there have been four significant development projects to be managed at the same time that will have a significant call on resources. These are Cranleigh Brick and Tile Appeal, East Street Regeneration Scheme, the Godalming Key Site and the Dunsfold New Settlement application. It is clear from the experience of the Cranleigh Brick and Tile planning application that significant additional resources are likely to be required to manage these projects effectively without detriment to service priorities.

16. There is, therefore, a context of unpredictable application workloads and consequent difficulties in predicting planning fee income. Income can often be 80,000 at variance from forecasts and this is partly due to the fact that nearly 40% of income is derived from less than 3% of applications submitted. This context makes budget and servicing planning difficult.

17. The Council has made great strides to meet the initial targets and each of the three targets has been met (major, minor and other applications). However in order to achieve this success it has been necessary to continue to use consultants, agency staff and overtime payments. Not to adopt this strategy would have meant a significant risk of failing to meet targets and consequent failure to secure a maximum PDG. Even with the use of planning consultants, case loads per officer have risen from 175.9 in 2004/5 to a current figure of 200 cases per officer. The DCLG and the Audit Commission have expressed concerns about the sustainability of these workloads set against a national benchmark of 150 cases per officer. Attached at Annexe 1 is an extract from ODPM research into Standard Authorities that explains the factors to be considered in assessing an appropriate caseload level. Further analysis of these factors follows below.

18. In addition to the officer’s planning application day-to-day workload Waverley also received a considerable number of planning appeals, far higher than our comparator authorities.

Fig 4


19. It is also important to note that this increased workload is placing pressure on other services that input into the planning process. In particular there is a heavy demand on legal services and environmental health officers in responding to development issues.

The Case Load Dilemma

20. The Portfolio Holder for Resources has suggested that it might be helpful to build a model of a core service resource for the Development Control function that could respond to the changing workloads through time. Officers have considered such an approach based on guidance from the ODPM research into Standard Authorities.

21. Officers have accepted at face value the concerns of the previous external inspectors that concluded that 176 cases per officer was an unsustainable workload. However, officers have not assumed that the 150 cases per officer put forward by the then ODPM is necessarily right for all authorities. The right balance therefore appears to lie between these 176 and 150 cases per officer.

22. In assessing the appropriate level of resources, the ODPM guidance suggests the following factors need to be taken into account.

FactorWaverley ContextResource impact
The number of major, minor and other applications per annum over a 3 year period and an understanding of the profile of the different categoriesBorough with one of the highest number of applications in Surrey.
Higher proportion of householder development. 76%
Growing proportion of Major development
Likely to require more officers compared to other authorities but…
High proportion of householder cases likely to result in higher case loads per officer and an opportunity to use technical officers and planning assistants in case work.
Increased Major applications and appeal workload placing greater pressure on few experienced planners.
The number of applications not included in the returns to ODPM together with any duty officer work, the scale of pre-application discussions, training and the trends.Conditions are not registered as applications as may be the case with other authorities. Estimated 7000 per year. This is an area of work that is stressed
Planning Surgery work restricted but pre application advice failing
Suggests that additional capacity required but could be delivered through technical staff and planning assistants under supervision.
If pre application advice to be improved then additional resource required.
How appeals and enforcement complaints are handled and their numbersAppeals handled by officers. 12 cases per year. 171 appeals
Enforcement team now handles 95% of cases but officer input still needed e.g. Tuesley farm and Tanyard farm took 2 officers out for 3 weeks each
Hearings and Inquiries consume significant time in comparison to officer time in the original application.
High appeal workload suggests higher resource required. Currently the uses of external planning consultancies are used to help manage this work.
The experience and skills profile of staff needed to perform the tasks including the level of managerial support or supervision required•3 team managers
•5 Principal Planners
•2 Senior Planner
•6 Planning assistants
•2.75 technicians
•12 support/ PET / admin
•2 tree officers
The staff profile reflects the workload profile.
However generates need for significant supervision.
However with only two Senior Officer Posts there is a restriction on career development.
The policy of the authority on the use of consultants and agency staff to fill vacancies and to handle peak workloads;2 consultants are used to manage the application workload. One is employed part time and one is engaged on a when required basis.
3 planning consultancies are used to manage the appeal workload as required on a case assessment basis.
The used of consultants represents a safety valve in managing the workload.
The use of consultants’ places additional brings managerial tasks.
In appeal work there are risks that consultants may not be familiar with the Waverley nuances.
The implications of development plan policies and sites coming forward;Significant major development coming forward. East St, Godalming Key Site, Dunsfold, etc.Significant development proposals coming forward will require attention from Principle Officers and Managers.
The number of applications requiring section 106 agreementsSignificant increase anticipated arising from Farnham mini plan, S106 leisure contributions and Surrey Planning collaboration project.It is not anticipated this will have a significant impact on planning officer time, as agreements are likely to be based on formulas or tariffs.
Need to resource monitoring role.
The geographical area and the ease or difficulty of undertaking site visitsLargest Borough in Surrey. East west travel difficult.Greater costs in time and travel compared to other authorities.
The capacity and availability of non case officer staff to undertake part of the workTechnicians at capacity, already moved 2 admin officers to planning assistant posts Use of technical and administrative staff reduces overall costs.
Committee and delegation processes that require officer time;Waverley’s delegation level now 90%.
Committee processes reviewed and impact on officer time reduced.
Processes refined and little scope for further efficiencies
The priority the authority gives to negotiation, achieving quality development and public consultationLow priority in formal process but pre app capacity stretched.If value is to be added consistently through negotiation then additional resource required to achieve this.
Staff turnover ratesCurrently staff turnover low. Staff vacancies when they occur have a significant impact on performance.
An awareness of the caseload of other comparable well performing development control servicesTop performing councils generally have caseloads less than 160 cases per officer and some less than 150 cases per officer. E.g. Kirklees in 2005 had 76 cases per officer.Waverley is now performing well against BVPI targets but…
If customer satisfaction is to be improved and value added to processes additional resources required in current circumstances.

23. Having applied the ODPM factors, there is no scientific conclusion to the resource required to manage caseloads in the Waverley Context. A number of factors point to a need to have a higher resource than others due to the number of applications and appeals and the geography of the Borough. On the other hand the resource required is likely to be weighted towards more technical and administrative staff reflecting the work profile and therefore a caseload greater than 150 per officer might be anticipated.

24. If one assumes a target caseload figure of 160 cases per officer substantially below the 176 cases per officer agreed to be unsustainable but greater than the government’s benchmark of 150 cases, what would this mean for the authority?

25. Table 1 below sets out an indication of cases per officer for total cases ranging from 2,600 to 3,100, which is the likely range for Waverley. The current number of cases for the year is forecast to be in the region of 3,000 a record high for the Borough. At 200 cases per officer this equates to about 15 officers. If a target caseload of 160 cases per officer were assumed then this workload would equate to a total of 18.75 officers, an increase of 3.75 officers. The relevant cells are highlighted in the table. Taking the whole range from 2,600 to 3,100 cases the resource requirement differs by only 0.49 of a post. Within the calendar year 2,998 cases were registered and at this level of work 160 cases per officer equates to a further 5.25 planning officers over the existing establishment and 3.75 planning officers assuming the continued use of external consultants. For the purposes of this report the additional planning officer resource is therefore assumed to be 4 additional officers.

Table 1 Number of Officers for Workloads ranging from 2,600 to 3,100 cases.
Number of applications260027002800290030003100
Number of officers @15017.3318.0018.6719.3320.0020.67
Number of officers @16016.2516.8817.5018.1318.7519.38
Number of officers @ 17015.2915.8816.4717.0617.6518.24
Number of officers @ 18014.4415.0015.5616.1116.6717.22
Number of officers @ 19013.6814.2114.7415.2615.7916.32
Number of officers @ 2001313.51414.51515.5
Resource difference 200-1603.253.383.53.633.753.88
difference from current base 13.5 case officer 2.753.3844.635.255.88

An alternative approach to caseload dilemma

26. On the assumption that the department is performing well against BVPI targets an alternative approach is to consider where is improvement required and what would be the relevant resource?

27. Service areas that are currently not being delivered to the standards that the Council aspire to are

- Pre application advice.
- Discharge of planning conditions
- Requests for minor amendments
- General enquiries
- S106 Monitoring
- Compliance requests.
- Responses to complaints.

28. Other than pre-application advice that requires the input of experienced planning officers, Technicians or Planning Assistants could manage other work areas.

29. If pre-application advice is to be the service area where value is added to the planning process through negotiating and front-loading, then it is here that the authority will need its most experienced officers. This is necessary to provide confidence to all that advice is robust and consistent and negotiations and discussions are undertaken with appropriate community and political sensitivity. This therefore requires the input of Principal Officers and the value of this has been demonstrated by the positive feedback from the Planning Surgery.

30. If pre-application discussions are successful it is right to ask is there a need for major applications that have been the subject of such discussions to be processed by Principal Officers? There is a need for applications to be managed but a Planning Assistant under the supervision of the Principal, who conducted the pre-application discussions, could do the processing. It may be possible to add additional capacity for pre-application discussions and processing of applications by recruiting 4 officers at planning assistant level, freeing up some principal officer time to undertake pre application discussions as well as relieving pressure on the neighbourhood team. This would also allow for principal officers to work closely with a planning assistant to provide supervision and mentoring in terms of career development.

31. This then demands a different approach to the management of development with Principal Planners acting more in the way of internal planning consultants to other officers. However it should produce a win-win scenario by enhancing the quality of service and increasing customer satisfaction, providing increased job satisfaction for both Principal Planning Officers and other Planning Officers, provide consistency of process between pre application and application stages.

32. In addition the Senior Planning Officer returning from maternity leave on a part-time basis can be deployed to provide pre-application advice services and allow the implementation of the charging services on a phased basis. This has the advantage of increasing the stock of Senior Planning Officers to 2.5 with additional benefits of reduced management and reduced risks. It also means that an exceptional Senior Planning Officer, currently covering for maternity leave can be retained, a huge advantage at a time when it is difficult to recruit Senior Planning Officers.

33. S106 monitoring, compliance and discharging conditions can be enhanced by a combination of extending the scope of the current compliance officer posts in association with the appointment of planning assistants as described above. Again subject to the Council agreeing the proposals for S106 tariffs this could generate an income stream from July 2007 that could be used to initiate the service enhancements.

34. Given the additional work on the tree section, it is suggested to increase the administrative support by increasing the hours of the current post that is limited to 30 hours per week at the moment, to 37 hours per week.

35. The net staff increases in this model are 3 planning assistant posts and a further 7 hours per week for a technician supporting the tree officers. This scenario is not that different to the caseload target scenario of 160 cases per officer but addresses other service issues at the time. Ideally a planning technician/support officer should be considered as the current two technician posts that give support to the application and appeal work is severely strained under current workloads. This work includes administration of representations, conditions and minor amendments. This support is critical if time is to be released to Principal Officers to deliver a consultancy role.

36. The resource costs for these posts assuming on costs would be as follows.


PostsEstimated Costs
DC Technician/ Support26,200
Tree Admin officer5,000
Total costs 3 Planning Assist96,216
Senior Planner (pt Pre Apps)20,000
Total costs142,421


37. The budgeted income for 2006/07 was 680,000 with 730,000 for 2007/08 in line with the projected 2006/07 outturn. PDG has reduced to an estimated level of 195,000 from 240,000 in 2006/07 and 360,000 in 2005/06.

38. One further issue worthy of consideration concerns workforce planning. There are two issues of concern to management. The first is that there are several experienced and valuable Planning Officers that are nearing retirement. In the current market context the recruitment of similarly experienced officers may prove to be difficult. In addition the career path through the department is unstructured. This is partly due to the restricted number of posts at Senior Officer level that constrains progression from Planning Assistant to Principal Officer. An organisational chart is attached at (Exempt) Annexe 2. This raises the concern that without some improved opportunity for career development then planning assistants who are currently being trained and developed by the authority will ultimately seek this opportunity elsewhere. It is suggested that converting planning assistant posts to Career Grade Posts might overcome this difficulty and assist the Council developing more structured career paths to assist long-term workforce planning issues. Progression to Senior Officer status would be based upon successful completion of RTPI accredit training, Membership of the RTPI, together with at least two years post qualification practical experience and satisfactory performance. This would likely generate an immediate cost of @1,500 as one officer is likely to be able to move to this status now. Other officers are at least two years away from that position and some longer. It is also anticipated that not all officers will wish to proceed along this career path and it is therefore unlikely that all officers at planning assistant level will reach Senior Officer Status at any one time.

Charging for Planning Services

39. Many planning authorities are exploring the issues in this paper and how to sustain the service into the future. More and more are looking at charging for discretionary planning services as a means of achieving this. Indeed it is anticipated that the Lyons report will support the concept of further charging for services for those who directly receive Council services rather than burdening the general council taxpayer.

40. If the Modernising Planning SIG is minded to support the general resource targets outlined in this report then it may only be prepared to do so subject to charging for planning services. The report at Appendix Q to this agenda sets out a possible model of charging for discussion that may secure the necessary income to cover the additional costs raised in this paper.

Recommendation

It is recommended that the Executive endorse the direction of travel for improvement in the planning service as set out in the report, namely

1. to work towards a target of 160 cases per officer; 2. to work towards improving the outputs of the service in those areas set out below: a. Pre application advice.
b. Discharge of planning conditions
c. Requests for minor amendments
d. General enquiries
e. S106 Monitoring
f. Compliance requests.
g. Responses to complaints; 3. to endorse the concept of front-loading the Development Management process by developing Principal Planning Officers as “internal consultants”; and 4. to agree a career grading system for Planning Assistants to assist in retention and recruitment.

Background Papers (DoPD)

CIPFA – A Practical Guide to Local Authorities on discretionary income generation.
Planning Advisory Service and ATLAS – Pilot Planning Delivery Agreements
ODPM – “An Overview of the Evaluation of Planning Standards Authorities 2004-05”
ODPM -- Formulation of Guidance on Access to Planning Information and Charging for copies of documents.
ODPM—General power for Best Value Authorities to Charge for discretionary Services-Guidance on the Local Government Act 2003.

CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: John Anderson Telephone: 01483 523298

Comms/exec/2006-07/336