Review provides blueprint for improved planning service

A series of recommendations aimed at improving and giving a new direction to the planning service at Uttlesford District Council will be considered by councillors next month.

Following long-running planning issues, the council commissioned an independent review that looked into the Development Management service last year. The service provides a number of key functions such as dealing with planning applications, planning enforcement, and negotiating S106 agreements with developers on the contributions they are required to make to mitigate the impact of development.

The review was carried out by consultants appointed by the East of England Local Government Association (EELGA), and their final report has now been published.

In it, they acknowledge the hard work of the planning team through an extremely difficult time but also note that the service has not been performing to expected standards. They recommend the council implements eight steps to ensure the service is fit for purpose in meeting its regulatory requirements, and aligns with its Corporate Plan goal to 'deliver outstanding planning and place-making capabilities with the right capacity to create quality outcomes with and for all our communities'.

The recommended actions would see new operational processes and procedures established, greater emphasis placed on leadership and guidance, and enhanced engagement and planning training for councillors.

Cllr John Evans, portfolio holder with responsibility for planning, said: "The council has had to deal with a large number of planning problems over a number of years and it has been difficult for the planning service in its current form to provide an efficient service. We all appreciate how important planning matters are to our communities so it is an absolute priority that we get this right.

"This is why the external review was commissioned, to identify where the gaps were and set out the improvements needed so that we can then provide the best possible service to our residents and other users of the planning service. I am pleased we now have the final report which will give the council a platform to drive forward long-lasting changes that will ultimately make for a better and more effective planning service."

The planning budget was enhanced by £380,000 in the council's 2021/22 budget to assist the implementation of any recommendations from the review, and a programme of improvement actions for the planning service is already underway.

This includes a redesigned reporting system that will be piloted at the next Planning Committee meeting in October, making better use of performance statistics, the recruitment of two senior planning officers to increase capacity to deal with major planning applications, and the recruitment of specialist planning lawyers. A highly experienced Planning Transformation Lead Officer has been appointed to drive these and other service improvements.

A number of recommendations that will see the council make improvements in the way it considers, negotiates and manages developer contributions, and give a greater voice to communities in this process, were also endorsed by the Cabinet in July following a Scrutiny Committee review.

The EELGA-appointed consultants' report and recommendations will be considered by the Scrutiny Committee on 7 October, before going to Cabinet.

28 September 2021