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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
A Proposal for Modernising the Area Sub-Committee System



Summary & Purpose
This report is prepared in response to continued criticism of the current Area Committee System from external evaluators and Inspectors. The report outlines a proposal for discussion based on the model used by Charnwood Borough Council that is close to those ideas advanced informally to officers. The SIG is asked to make recommendations to the Executive on proposals for change.

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
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APPENDIX D
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

MODERNISING PLANNING: SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP
29TH JUNE 2005

ENVIRONMENT AND LEISURE OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE
4TH JULY 2005

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Title:
A PROPOSAL FOR MODERNISING THE AREA SUB-COMMITTEE SYSTEM

[Wards Affected: All]

Summary and purpose:

This report is prepared in response to continued criticism of the current Area Committee System from external evaluators and Inspectors. The report outlines a proposal for discussion based on the model used by Charnwood Borough Council that is close to those ideas advanced informally to officers. The SIG is asked to make recommendations to the Executive on proposals for change.

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

E-Government implications:

The ICT systems will assist in delivering improved visual presentations for both Members and the public at the Godalming offices in association with web casting.

Resource and legal implications:

There are no additional resource implications, indeed it is anticipated that if the proposal is adopted it would reduce officer time spent on servicing committees to the benefit of pre-application and application processes.

Introduction

1. This report should be read in the context of the wider service improvement agenda. The Council is committed to continually improving its planning service and to embracing the new planning system. Significant improvements have already been made and critical building blocks are in place. Work is in hand to improve the pre-application discussion process and the innovative Development Control Consultative Forums are part of that initiative. New arrangements are being put in place to consider at an earlier stage Section 106 agreements so that they accompany an application submission.

2. The roles of the Area Sub-Committees and Members are critical to service delivery. It is one service where members are the service delivery mechanism, working along side their officers. It is critical that the decision-making mechanisms remain in tune with the new planning system and deliver efficient and quality decisions.

3. All of these initiatives on planning application process are designed to improve speed of decision and maintain quality of decision-making. The objective of the Council is to meet the Government’s BVPI targets and changes to the Area Sub-Committee system have been recognised by Members of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee and the Executive as necessary.

Criticisms Of The Area Sub-Committee System

4. The OPDM has concluded through its research on planning performance that a common characteristic of a failing authority is an area committee system. This is commonly associated with higher servicing costs, parochial views dominating over a wider Borough view and inconsistency in decision making. Whilst Members of the Council still have a high regard for the current system the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee in its review of Development Control last year concluded that the weight of evidence demonstrated that a review of the area committee structure was appropriate and the Executive subsequently endorsed this.

5. The ODPM evaluation has also highlighted concerns about the frequency of Committees. Addison Associates, the ODPM evaluators have recommended that Committees should meet at least every three weeks in order for decisions to be made within the eight-week target dates for determination. In addition there is concern about delays due to the number of deferrals for site visits and referrals up to Development Control Committee, which mean determination targets are missed.

The Principles Of A New System

6. Any new committee system needs to meet the following objectives.

Meet frequently enough to determine applications within eight-weeks of receipt of an application.

Provide sufficient opportunity for Member involvement in the development management process.

Balance both local and borough wide views.

Reduce the incidence of deferrals and referrals.

Reduce the servicing costs

Provide confidence to the public in the decision-making mechanisms.

Outline Of A Solution

7. Following the release of the ODPM desk top evaluation of the service in February 2005 the then Chairmen of the Development Control Committee, Area Sub-Committees, and the Deputy Leader, and the Portfolio Holder of Planning met to have an informal discussion about the Council’s response to the criticism. A range of options were discussed from do nothing, to amalgamating the current Committees to form two larger area committees, or having A and B Committees which met on a borough wide basis. At that time there was a strong consensus to explore the Committee A and B model.

8. This model would comprise the following elements.

There would be Development Control Committee A and a Development Control Committee B of equal status and powers.

Members from across the Borough would sit on each committee.

There should be a committee meeting at least every three weeks.

Each Committee would meet alternately and at least every six weeks.

The Experience Of Charnwood Borough Council

9. Charnwood Borough Council in Leicestershire has operated the Committee A and B model for approximately five years. Officers have discussed the merits of the model with Committee Services from Charnwood to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the system. Charnwood Borough Council is currently meeting all of its BVPI 109 targets for major, minor and other applications. The Committee system is considered to be an important component of the application process that enables targets to be met.

The main elements of the Charnwood Borough Council system are; -

There are Plans Committees 1 and 2

Twelve members sit on each committee with other Members in reserve.

The Committees meet every six weeks and therefore there is a committee every three weeks. (They originally had a committee every two weeks but found this too demanding on officer time).

There are on average 10 items on each agenda but this can range from 6 to 20.

Public speaking is allowed on all applications reported to Committee but approximately half actually have speakers.

Meetings commence at 5.pm but are preceded by Committee site visits.

Most sites are visited in advance by coach.

Applications can be referred to The Regulatory Committee either by officers where the decision of the Committee is considered to be unsound or where five Members (not necessarily on the Committee) give planning reasons for a referral to the Regulatory Committee. Similar arrangements exist for referral to Council.

Applications that are deferred are reported back to the same committee.

A Model For Waverley

10. Having considered the views of the Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee, when it reviewed Development Control together with the informal comments of the Committee Chairman and the Charnwood BC experience it is suggested that the SIG consider the following proposal.

ProposalReason / justification
That the current Development Control Committee and its Area Development Control Committees be abandoned in favour of a Development Management Committee 1 and Development Management Committee 2The Management of Development is a Borough wide responsibility and is not confined to local areas.

The current system is not efficient and too slow. A Committee 1 and 2 system has been demonstrated to be more efficient in meeting BVPI targets.
Membership of the Committees is drawn from across the Borough and in proportion to party representation.To achieve balance between local and borough wide perspectives.
That there is between 15 and 20 Members on each Committee. This enables the wide interest of Members in planning matters to be retained.
That the substitution system be abandoned for Development Management Committees. With greater membership the need for member substitutes is reduced.
There should be a Development Management Committee every three weeks with each committee meeting every six weeks.The three weekly cycle is the recommended minimum by ODPM evaluators.
Charnwood found that two weekly cycles were too onerous.

With greater emphasis on Development Control Consultative Forums additional time needs to be created to manage these events.
Committee site visits should take place in advance of the Committee meeting. It is suggested that this should occur the day before the meeting. This will reduce the delay in making decisions by avoiding deferrals for site visits.
Visual presentations of plans to be given at all Development Management Committee meetings.Improve the quality of information to assist Member decision-making and avoid unnecessary site visits.
Where a decision is not in accordance with the Development Plan or where a decision in the opinion of officers is unsound it should be referred to the alternative committee for scrutiny. Decisions should be made in accordance with the Development Plan. Where there are departures from the plan it would be wise to have appropriate checks and balance in the system so that such decisions are properly scrutinised. Referral to the following committee would reduce delay.
Where a decision is of major importance. E.g. East Street Regeneration then the two Committees should come together as a Special Development Management Committee.Applications of major significance or controversy have often resulted in a referral to Council. If the Membership of the Development Management Committees is between 15 and 20 then potentially up to 40 Members could be involved in the planning decision. In this case those members are likely to be those with both planning interests and experience. Such a system should avoid the need to refer matters to Council.
The officer report be reorganised into a more logical format.The current format starts with consultation responses and objections. It would be logical to start with a description of the proposal and any background, then an outline of the planning policies before reporting comments and concluding with an officer consideration.
Remove the C Schedule from the agenda and make this information available to members outside of the committee system. To retain this information on the C schedule would either mean printing it twice so that each Committee has the same information or accepting that each Committee will have different information. This might mean members may find gaps in their information.

The important point is that members should know what decisions are made under officer-delegated powers. This can best and most efficiently done by circulating a list on a regular basis
Remove from the agenda enforcement updates but replace it with a quarterly performance report on enforcement.The current system emphasises the failures of the service rather than our successes. Reporting successes would help to establish a more positive image of the enforcement service and this will assist in managing individual cases. The current reporting system because of the exempt status of cases, limits the information officers are able to give on individual case without prejudicing the Councils position. This often causes frustration to both members and officers. Such limits would not apply to information that Officers could circulate in confidence outside of the committee arena.
Committees to meet at The Council offices in Godalming and be available on web-cast. Agendas will include applications from across the Borough and Godalming is recognised as the administrative centre of the Borough. The technology exists at Godalming to provide visual presentations with minimal effort. Web casting facilities are available at Godalming, although there are plans for mobile web casting equipment.

Timetable For The Implementation Of The Changes

29th June 2005: Consideration and recommendations by the Modernising Planning SIG of an outline proposal.

4th July 2005: Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee

6th July 2005: Development Control Committee

12th July 2005: Executive considers Modernising SIG’s recommendation and makes recommendation to Council.

19th July 2005: Council Considers Executive's recommendation on outline scheme.

Officers prepare and make adjustments to constitution, procedures, delegated powers, with a view to obtaining inputs as appropriate from the Constitution SIG, Modernising Planning SIG, Environment and Leisure Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Executive with a view to ratification by Council at its meeting on 25th October 2005.

Recommendation

It is recommended that the above model for Development Management Committees (as set out in the table) is recommended to the Executive for consideration.

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Background Papers (DoPD)

Best Value Inspection report form the Audit Commission 2001, the CAP report 2004, The ODPM draft report on Development Control Performance, The ELOS report on Development Control performance December 2004.

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CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: John Anderson Telephone: 01483 523298

E-mail: jaanderson@waverley.gov.uk

Comms/SIGS/2005-06/029