To receive and consider the report of the Director of Change and Delivery.
Executive Member for Planning and Development Councillor Alistair Morwood presented the report.
The directorate was noted to be unusual due to covering three Executive Portfolios.
Financially, there was an overspend of £37.346 due to the increase cost of professional fees, statutory notices, legal fees and rise in staffing. The legal fees required to defend planning decisions at appeal was £147,000.
There was a reduction of income from the building control plan fees and inspection fees and due to the suspension of the pre-application advice service the budgeted £17,000 was not received. The service was suspended due to the pandemic, in its place, improvements were made to the planning portal and supplementary guidance. It was noted that for developments that did not require planning permission, it was advised that a certificate of lawful development was obtained.
Staffing remained a challenge within the council, with failed recruitment attempts and the use of agency staff. All duties were carried out at maximum capacity, but the expense was greater. The issue with staffing was recgonised by central government and a consultation was open exploring resilience within local authorities. It was commended that the private sector was able to offer larger compensation packages, and efforts to train from within were likely to result in the departure for the private sector. It was noted that there were no current plans to recruit and install a Director of Planning and Development.
The performance indicators from within the report were highlighted and discussed.
In relation to the local plan and developments within the borough, it was understood that the council were below its indicators, for a large development, the average build rate was 30 – 50 units a year, although figures varied. By the end of a local plan fewer allocated housing sites remained, and those allocated may yet to be developed. The Panel heard that the council was currently under the process of negotiating with a developer to purchase a number of affordable houses in its role as a registered provider.
The consultation for the new Local Plan ended 24 February 2023, 1200 online responses and 270 written responses were received. Over 500 people attended sessions across the borough, and external partners, including the School Planning Team and Highways have provided feedback which resulted in additional work required.
It was clarified that there were between 1000 and 1200 planning applications made a year, the majority of decisions were made by delegated decision. Most appeals were dismissed, however those that went to appeal were statistical outliers. The Panel were informed that the Planning Directorate, like many public bodies had a resource and capacity issue, which resulted in the time to consider appeals to be substantial.
Of the three projects in the directorate, ‘to work with partners and residents to improve local play and community facilities across the borough’, and ‘lead activity to address climate change including tree planting’ were on track. The project ‘to deliver affordable housing within the borough’ was slightly off track.
The project for the 2023/24 municipal year are to ‘deliver the local plan’, ‘to deliver natural green initiatives’, and to ‘develop the use of green energy in the borough’.
The project to ‘deliver affordable housing remained a corporate project, however it would be placed under the director of Change and Delivery