This report provides an update on measures being implemented to deliver a step change in the reputation and performance of the BCP Planning Service and in order to support the delivery of the Big Plan and other corporate priorities.
It follows a previous report to the Overview and Scrutiny Board in November 21 and provides a 6-month update on progress since and actions for the next 6 months.
The Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Regulatory Services presented a report, a copy of which had been circulated to each Member and a copy of which appears as Appendix 'A' to these minutes in the Minute Book. The report provided an update on the measures being implemented to deliver change in the reputation and performance of the BCP Planning Service. The report followed a previous report received by the O&S Board in November 2021. The Portfolio Holders for Development, Growth and Regeneration; and Community Safety and Regulatory Services provided information about the report to the Committee. A number of issues were raised in the subsequent discussion including:
· Councillors commented that the service had done a good job getting back on track, especially considering the difficulties in bringing the three legacy systems together.
· How planning improvement fits in with the overall transformation programme. It was noted that the Council was still working with the three legacy systems but was moving towards a single system using the Mastergov software package which would be more efficient and reduce the risk of providing information which wasn’t up to date.
· How extensions for applications affected the performance graphs - The report set out both figures. All planning systems across the country used extensions of time. However, the Planning Team wanted to move to a system where this was not needed.
· The reduction in the number of conditions was due to consolidating conditions which were used by the three preceding authorities but with different wording. It was a case of harmonising rather than reducing to make sure the Council was using the best set of conditions.
· Recruitment – The planning improvement journey started with 29 vacancies, thirteen of which had been filled and agency staff were covering a number of the other vacancies. There was a national shortage of planners, which was affecting everybody to some degree. The service was looking to invest in graduates and grow its own officers although it was difficult in finding people out there.
· Target on Major and Minor applications – It was noted that the service wanted to get to the top end of benchmarking authorities, but a specific target had not been set as this fluctuated significantly. However, it was noted as being something which may need to be defined in the service plan going forward.
· Resilience and staff wellbeing. This issue was linked to the increase in workloads and ensuring that the staff who had been supporting the improvement process were equipped for this. It was acknowledging the fact that work loads were high and supporting staff with this. The Chief Operations Officer advised that the Planning Leadership Team had been impressive in bringing officers together as a team which was being seen in outcomes.
· Number of Work Streams – It was confirmed that the Performance and Development Management workstream was sort of divided into two but within an overarching framework which created a total of six workstreams.
· Applications Backlog – It was confirmed that this was the number of applications which were out of time, but all were being worked on.
· Impact of agency staff – It was noted that there was a financial impact, but agency staff located elsewhere do visit the area to conduct site visits. However, the new structure for staff should help ease reliance on agency. There was some concern in the number of different staff working on an application, it was understood that this could be an issue but was also needed in some cases to ensure applications were actioned.
· Independent planning review – It was noted that this was expected to be received in a couple of months. The service was also looking into what could be done around Supplementary Planning Documents and what would need to wait for the Local Plan.
· In relation to areas which had been zero rated for Community Infrastructure Levy and whether anything could be done to help local communities, the Head of Planning Advised that CIL was due to be changed in the new Bill which was expected to come in in about 12-18 months and therefore any changes would need to be addressed at this point.
A Committee Member commented that the openness of the report was very much appreciated and really showed that the team had got a grip on the issues.
The Chief Executed commented that there had been good leadership shown by the Head of Planning and good improvements in the Planning team. The Chief Executive acknowledged that there had been several difficult issues to address and thanked all in the planning team and the other services working alongside them.
The Leader advised that this was a priority area for the whole council and expressed his thanks for the staff who were moving us forward. Delighted with progress made and we will become one of the best planning authorities in the country.
RESOLVED: That the Committee’s thanks to all the team be recorded and that the measures underway to improve and transform the planning service be noted and endorsed.