The Executive Member for Planning and Growth submitted a report that set out the current position with planning
applications. She said that the report explained the current challenges and actions being taken to improve the service and the steps being taken to address the backlog of planning applications and improve communications.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth set out the numbers of applications being dealt with each year and said that significant and specialist resources were being allocated to the planning work associated with the allocated sites since the publication of the District Plan.
Members were advised that the volume of applications had increased significantly in the last two years in line with an identified national trend across the country. The Executive Member for Planning and Growth referred to a national shortage of planners and a high turnover of staff. She also referred to significant delays in responses from statutory consultees due to resource and recruitment challenges, which had also delayed decision making.
The Executive Member for Planning and Growth said that steps were being taken to address the backlog and speed up decision making in general. She said that further interventions to speed up this process were summarised in the report.
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee Members asked some pre submitted and supplementary questions. The Executive Member for Planning and Growth and the Head of Planning and Building Control responded to these questions.
Councillor Snowdon asked if there were any organisations that could assist the council with other specific pieces or work relating to planning policy or the final details of section 106 agreements. The Head of Planning of Building Control said that there were a range of planning professionals that covered a whole range of planning services and functions. She said that the focus was development management and the resource within the planning policy team was stable. She emphasised the importance of planning officers being able to successfully negotiate the Section 106 agreements and the heads of terms on planning applications.
Councillor Curtis asked if the council had implemented any of the measures detailed at paragraph 3.4 of the report. The Head of Planning and Building Control said that a template had been devised and was being used by planning officers. Councillor Curtis said that the suggested changes and interventions should be implemented right away.
Members asked questions in respect of career graded posts and whether the salaries being paid were sufficiently competitive. The Head of Planning and Building Control and the Executive Member for Planning and Growth confirmed that research had been carried out on the issue of salaries and also what the council could offer to Officers to develop their careers at East Herts and within Hertfordshire.
Councillor Wyllie asked if there were any improvements that Officers could request of Hertfordshire Highways to improve the East Herts planning process. The Service Manager (Development Management) said that there were regular meetings with Hertfordshire Highways. She said that early advice and intervention from Highways assisted officers in determining planning applications and the council did encourage applicants to engage with the pre application service offered by the Highway Authority.
Councillor Curtis proposed and Councillor Goldspink seconded, a motion that Overview and Scrutiny Committee have considered the content of the report and have provided observations to the Executive Member for Planning and Growth.
After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.
RESOLVED – that Overview and Scrutiny Committee have considered the content of the report and have provided observations to the Executive Member for Planning and Growth.