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
1. Summary of recommendations
2. Background and process
3. Key themes
1. Letter from ODPM on Planning delivery grant 2005/06
2. E-Planning initiatives – ‘Pendleton’ criteria
3. Staff interviews – 9th and 13th September 2004
4. Summary of evidence to select committee mode meeting on18th October 2004
5. Responses to Members’ questionnaire
6. Percentage of Delegated Decisions being made
7. Table of planning committee meetings – numbers and duration
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:
(i) Initially using resources from the Planning Development Grant (PDG), to set up within the Planning and Development Department a unit dedicated to Enforcement work, transferring that responsibility from the Case Officers dealing with planning applications. The objective should be to maintain this unit in the future, regardless of PDG, in order that Waverley's enforcement action can be seen as being among the best in the business. The unit should have the comprehensive capability of dealing with all levels of enforcement, from complaint to action, including access to adequate legal services. In the longer term, by setting a firm example, it could be expected that resources may be reviewed as fewer complaints are initiated.
(ii) That support should be given to the Planning Officers Society's submission to government that breach of planning laws should become a criminal offence.
Development Control Committee Structure
(i) That the Executive should commission a report from Officers on the pros and cons and possible models for changing from the current five committee system to a more streamlined system, for example, of two geographical committees with no superior committee. Within this report, consideration should also be given to the method and circumstances under which applications, having been determined by a committee can be "referred upwards". The Committee was very much aware of the need to maintain Members' role in any amended system, and recognises the controversial nature of even an investigation into changes but it fully recognised the need for such an investigation.
(ii) The Council has recently considered officer delegation and the Committee found no evidence that changes to the current system would materially aid target achievement. Therefore there are no proposals to the Executive to consider altering the levels of delegation.
Staffing and related issues
(i) The link between staff resources and meeting targets was demonstrated in much of the evidence presented. Effective staff recruitment, training and retention are therefore seen as essential. A recurrent theme in the evidence submitted was the practice of ‘growing your own’ planners from existing staff, and or, graduate recruits. It is proposed that the Executive consider establishing a formal graduate training programme to support a ‘grow your own policy’ from existing staff and graduates whose degrees may not necessarily be in planning related subjects. Evidence presented to the Committee suggested this approach could prove particularly successful in the local job market.
(ii) The Committee recognised there was experience of outsourcing work currently and supported the principle of further building capacity by specifically investigating the use of outsourcing for ‘peak shaving’. It was noted that outsourcing deals only with procedure; the decisions remain internal.
(iii) Normal or built-in delays in the recruitment process should be avoided for all planning service posts because of the detrimental impact staff shortages would have on performance and consequential potential loss of PDG funding.
(iv) The establishment of the Planning Enquiry Team to field and answer standard routine enquiries, thereby enabling planning officers to concentrate on priority tasks, was endorsed by the Committee.
Planning Development Grant
(i) Government BVPI targets will remain in place and PDG funding is likely to be extended until 2008. Accordingly achievement of both are critical success factors for Waverley and it is important that any PDG funding awarded should be ring-fenced to provide sustainable improvements to support planning service performance.
(ii) The Committee emphasised their view that it is the quality of decisions that counts rather than the speed, but equally recognised that quality becomes sustainable if resources are available. Success in achieving PDG would underpin the sustainability of quality.
(iii) In view of the importance of achieving PDG it is proposed that a formal monitoring group be established as a sub-committee of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee (ELOS) to monitor and scrutinise progress, including initiatives on e-planning which are now part of PDG funding consideration. The sub-committee would report their activity to ELOS.
(i) It is suggested that the Executive should ask Officers to report back to them with the pros and cons of charging for additional planning services.
(ii) It is important that the changes in the provision of planning services envisaged in the Government’s Modernising Agenda and in the new Planning Act are understood by Members’ and it is therefore suggested that a programme of Member training should be established as a priority.
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?
What is members’ perception of their role in the planning process?
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:
Scoping report on the review of Development control submitted to the Committee for approval.
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.
Interviews undertaken by the Sub-committee with officers from the Planning and Development Department and Chief Executive’s department.
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 Council
Development Control and Policy Manager
Planning Officers Society
Epsom and Ewell Borough Council
Chief Planning Officer
Chichester District Council
Head of Development and Building Control
Reigate and Banstead Borough Council
Head of Building and Development Services
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.
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
. 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
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
). 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
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
). 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
. 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.
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
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.