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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 07/12/2004
Review of Development Control


Environment and Leisure
Overview and Scrutiny Committee

Review of
Development Control

November 2004

Review of Development Control

1. Summary of recommendations
2. Background and process
3. Key themes

Summary of Recommendations

The Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee at the meeting on 12th November 2004 approved the following series of recommendations and findings for the consideration of the Executive as set out below:

1. Enforcement
2. Development Control Committee Structure
3. Staffing and related issues
4. Planning Development Grant
5. Other issues
Background and Process

1. In April 2004, the Audit Commission’s report on its Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) of the Council found that Development Control performance was poor and not improving. This judgement was based largely on performance as measured by the Best Value Performance Indicators (BVPIs) for planning. These indicators measure the speed with which planning applications are determined. The primary objective of the review of Development Control is to make recommendations to the Executive about ways to improve performance against the BVPIs.

2. To achieve this objective the following key questions were addressed: What are the Council’s objectives in relation to planning?
How do high-performing Councils do it?
What do planning officers’ say is slowing things down?
3. The Committee has been receiving monitoring reports at each of its meetings on the progress being made against the BVPIs.

The Review Process

The stages of the review are set out below:

May 2004

Scoping report on the review of Development control submitted to the Committee for approval.

July 2004

Members’ questionnaire sent out and approval obtained from Council to the establishment of an Environment and Leisure Sub-Committee with a membership of four councillors to conduct interviews with staff.

September 2003

Interviews undertaken by the Sub-committee with officers from the Planning and Development Department and Chief Executive’s department.

October 2004

Evidence presented to a select committee mode meeting of the Committee by representatives of high performing local authorities and from the Planning Officers’ Society, followed by question and answer session. The meeting was webcast and a list of those giving evidence is set out below:

Waverley Borough CouncilJohn AndersonDevelopment Control and Policy Manager
Planning Officers SocietyJohn SilvesterPublicity Officer
Epsom and Ewell Borough CouncilNick IdeChief Planning Officer
Chichester District CouncilSteve CarvellHead of Development and Building Control
Reigate and Banstead Borough CouncilMark HarbottleHead of Building and Development Services

November/December 2004

Submission of report to the Committee summarising the information and evidence gathered under the review and consideration of conclusions and recommendations to be included in the final report of the review.

Final report published and presented for consideration by the Executive.

Main Conclusions

1. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) have provided additional resources to Local Authorities of 350 million over the three years up to 2005/06 as an incentive to deliver improved planning services through the allocation of Planning Delivery Grant (PDG). Details of the outline criteria for Planning Development Grant in 2005/06 are set out in the letter from the ODPM attached at Annexe 1. To achieve funding in 2004/05 authorities were rewarded on the basis of; performance against Best Value Performance targets for Development Control, on having a Local Plan in place and, in the South East only, for net additions to the housing stock. Waverley received no allocation for its Development Control performance as measured by BVPI’s for the period October 2002 – September 2003, which would have been paid in the current financial year, while some neighbouring authorities received allocations of between 250,000 to well over 400,000 for meeting or improving their Development Control performance. PDG for 2005/06 will be based on similar criteria to that used last year with allocations being based on performance between October 2003 and September 2004. Additionally for next year’s award the ODPM are considering a level of reward related to the provision of e-planning initiatives based on the ‘Pendleton’ criteria for e-planning (see Annexe 2). PDG funding clearly provides the opportunity to support sustainable improvements in service and the achievement of the funding available up to 2005/06 (and possibly beyond in the light of announcements that PDG will continue through to 2008) must be a priority. 2. The link between resources and the achievement of application performance targets was made in the interviews held with staff as set out in Annexe 3 and this was further reinforced in the evidence presented by high performing neighbouring councils and by the representative of the Planning Officers’ Society at the select committee style meeting held on 18th October 2004 (see Annexe 4). Evidence presented indicated that there are severe problems, particularly in the South East, in terms of recruiting professionally qualified planners. Strategies to overcome this skill shortage will be crucial for the foreseeable future

3. Twenty responses were received to the questionnaire which was sent to all Members’ of the Council seeking views on their role in the planning process. The responses received are attached at Annexe 5. The returns received emphasise the importance Members’ attach to their involvement in the planning process, as representatives for the area they serve and their role in decision making and in aiding the quality of decisions reached. Members’ by 3-1 identified support for the existing area based planning structure with four sub-committees and one main committee. This approach differs from the evidence provided by high performing authorities all of which operate with fewer committees. In addition the Waverley planning staff interviewed identified the existing committee structure as a constraining influence on meeting targets. Annexe 6 attached sets out details of the number and percentage of decisions made under officer delegated authority for the first two quarters of the current year. An analysis of the number of meetings of the five planning committees (including cancelled meetings) and their duration over the last 18 months is attached at Annexe 7. 4. Members’ heard evidence at the select committee style meeting on 18th October of the changing role Government sees for development control, in particular the planning service becoming less of a controlling regime and more of a management regime. To reflect this change in emphasis Government are even considering a change in terminology for the service from Development Control to Development Management.

5. An overriding issue identified by Members’ was balancing the democratic input in planning matters against the pressures to deliver targets on decision making.

6. The issue of enforcement in respect of breaches of planning control emerged as a major concern in the interviews conducted with staff (see Annexe 3) and from the Members’ questionnaire. In particular Waverley staff felt they were not resourced to undertake effective enforcement. The evidence taken from high performing Council’s indicated that they enjoyed a much greater level of resource and support for this aspect of the planning service.