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250 Planning Applications in Limbo As GBC Lies Near the Bottom of National Tables

Published on: 18 Sep, 2022
Updated on: 18 Sep, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

A grim warning about delays to planning applications has been given by Guildford Borough Council’s strategic director for planning. In an email sent on September 1 she said there are: “250 unallocated but validated applications with no easy immediate solution as [the] number of cases already being dealt with by officers is extremely high”.

It appears that Guildford is second from bottom in a spreadsheet showing planning application performance by council. Performance was gauged by the percentage of applications decided within the statutory time limit.

In January to March 2022, only 26 per cent of applications were decided on time, a drop from 96 per cent in April to June 2019.

DLUHC planning application statistics show GBC managed only 26 per cent of applications on time (Q1 2022) compared to the national average of 83 per cent. Click on the images to enlarge in a new window.

In a memo to all councillors, leaked to The Dragon, strategic director Dawn Hudd, who carries out the same role within Waverley Borough Council, pointed at management saying: “Since the start of the pandemic there have been no significant changes to operations, other authorities initiated emergency delegation etc to keep things moving”.

She said GBC planning service “needs an end-to-end review”.

She also blamed the increased number of applications since the end of 2020 and difficulties in retaining and recruiting staff.

The planning application backlog at GBC had doubled as far back as April 2021. Photo of the council offices at Millmead.

A well-placed source in GBC told The Dragon: “Planning is a central function of local councils. It is a disgrace GBC is doing so badly compared to other local authorities. I’m amazed other councillors aren’t doing more to raise the issue”

Statistics from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) show Guildford performing poorly. Nationally and in the South East, around 83 per cent of planning applications were decided in time during the first quarter “Q1” of 2022.

In Guildford during the same period, planning applications decided on time was 26 per cent. Only Hinckley and Bosworth in the Midlands was worse at 14 per cent.

DLUHC planning application statistics showing Guildford in dark blue, isolated in the south-east as the lowest percentage of applications decided on time (Q1 2022)

The type of application faring least well in GBC with 24 per cent decided on time includes advertisements, change of use, householder developments, listed buildings and conservation area demolitions. There were 352 applications in this category during the period.

The 13 major works applications had a success rate of 69 percent on time and 88 minor works applications at 28 percent on time.

Cllr Tom Hunt

Lead councillor for development control and enforcement Tom Hunt (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) defended the position saying: “This is obviously disappointing but we are doing everything we can to turn the situation around. We feel positive about the actions we have taken and will continue to closely monitor these results, as well as considering new ways to reduce the backlog.”

Whilst Guildford generally has more applications than most other local authorities (452 in Q1 2022), other authorities with more applications have still performed better. Brighton and Hove had 532 applications in Q1 2022 with 89 per cent decided on time and Waverley had 620 applications in Q1 2022 with 59 per cent on time.

Cllr Tom Hunt said: “During 2021 we received around 500 applications more than our historic average. This unexpected increase, together with staffing pressures, produced difficult challenges for us and many other organisations over the last few years. Application numbers remain high in 2022 and staffing pressures have not eased.

“Currently there is a higher than normal staff turnover rate impacting our service. We are facing challenges in recruiting because of the number of open jobs across the industry. We have introduced new measures to tackle this, but a backlog of 300 applications remains across different application types.”

He said they were employing new staff, encouraging overtime and using agency staff and a town planning consultancy, Luken Beck, to reduce the backlog. He said a new process of securing time extensions was freeing up officer time and increasing the number of extension of time requests and agreeing Planning Performance Agreements and the income associated was helping.

DLUHC planning application statistics graph of applications decided within time shows a sustained drop since 2019.

Cllr Hunt did not respond on the question of whether complaints about the planning process were increasing. On GBC’s performance compared to Waverley Borough Council, he said: “We are not in a position to comment on this.”

Regarding applications being approved by default because they run over time, Hunt said: “A longer timescale can be agreed with the applicant. There have been no planning applications that have been approved by default. Planning applications do not work in this way.”

He denied the redundancies from the Future Guildford programme had made the situation worse. He said they were still managing staff difficulties caused by the pandemic and that “there are a high number of planning jobs in the market increasing our staff turnover, across all role levels. Our new staffing structure has an agile approach to meet changing demands. It is a more robust setup and we are already seeing the benefits.

Anne Rouse,Vice Chair of the Guildford Labour party.

Vice-chair of the Guildford Labour Party Anne Rouse said: “There are no surprises for anyone at news of the severe delays in dealing with planning applications, it’s got progressively worse under this administration.

“One of our constituents commented to us recently of the new leadership team ‘to steer not one but two authorities to the bottom of the planning pile and still be in a highly paid job is quite a feat’.

“But the subject at Guildford seems to meet a wall of silence, and there’s a lack of scrutiny because the two largest parties are in collaboration. A lack of scrutiny is definitely a significant contributing factor there. No one is taking responsibility presumably because they know they don’t have any answers and want to distance themselves as far as possible.”

We have approached the Conservatives and Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) for a comment. Guildford Conservative Association (GCA) said: “GCA won’t be making any statements of a political nature until after the period of official mourning”. GGG have not responded.

See also Councils Planning Problems Still Not Resolved After More Than A Year Of Delays (June 2022),

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Responses to 250 Planning Applications in Limbo As GBC Lies Near the Bottom of National Tables

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 19, 2022 at 6:21 am

    This is no surprise. GBC planning is totally focussed on pushing through the massive and unwanted housing estates for major developers.

    We have to ask why these are such a high priority.

  2. H Trevor Jones Reply

    September 19, 2022 at 10:10 am

    Is there too much red tape?

    Is planning approval required quite unnecessarily for very trivial things?

    Are Guildford residents more complaining about applications than residents of most councils?

    I don’t know or even assume the answers to the above questions; I simply pose the questions and wonder if anyone else knows.

  3. David Smith Reply

    September 21, 2022 at 12:45 pm

    Its sad to see things have not improved since I wrote my letter: “GBC Planning ‘Simply Not Good Enough’ Just Blaming Covid” in October 2021.

    I’ve had two terrible dealings with this department, both for applications with no objections (the second application being an re-submission of the first but with removal of an additional wall) which took the best part of two years in total. The rising cost of materials throughout the period of delays will have cost some householders dearly.

    Last year my advice to anyone would have been to take applications straight to appeal at the first opportunity for non determination. I have no idea how Cllr Tom Hunt is still in post – anywhere else he would have been expected to stand down.

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