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Council’s Planning Problems Still Not Resolved After More Than A Year Of Delays

Published on: 18 Jun, 2022
Updated on: 21 Jun, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

Efforts to reduce the backlog of planning applications at Guildford Borough Council now include voluntary overtime for planning staff and outsourcing of less complicated applications.

The delays in processing applications, first reported in The Dragon more than a year ago (see Backlog Of Planning Applications Doubles At GBC April 2021), have drawn criticism from councillors and the public with angry Dragon readers talking of long delays and a “black hole” of communications with the planning department.

Screenshot from the online planning portal.

Councils across the UK are said to have been experiencing difficulties with the number of applications after unprecedented demands for home improvements, post-pandemic.

Neighbouring Waverley Borough Council, which shares chief executive Tom Horwood with Guildford Borough Council, is also experiencing delays. The Waverley website says: “Our validation team are now checking the majority of applications within our target timeframe. The previous delays and resourcing issues mean that, although there is progress, we are still experiencing delays in determining planning applications.”

Cllr Tom Hunt

Guildford Borough Council’s lead councillor for development management Tom Hunt (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas), who had said sorry in May for the delays (see GBC Councillor Says Sorry For Planning Delays), apologised again in a press release (June 15) for the “inconvenience this [the delays] has caused”.

He said an increase in the number of applications, difficulty with recruiting staff and Covid had all contributed to the backlog.

But Howard Smith, vice-chair of Guildford Labour Party, said: “We see no mention of the redundancies the council made in its own planning department that would account in part for these problems.

Howard Smith.

“I was shocked recently when a meeting of the planning committee reviewed just two applications and was finished in around an hour. Presumably because not enough is coming through the system? Not very efficient or effective.”

Cllr Hunt said the voluntary overtime had “already started and we expect our team to clear over 100 applications this way over the next few weeks”.

He added: “We are still receiving high levels of applications and we must be realistic about the volume of work involved. However, we will be closely monitoring the results of these actions and expect to see an improvement over the coming months.”

He said the pre-application service had resumed on March 1, 2022 and that “contact with our customers is improving. The number of complaints surrounding this has reduced. We are aware it is not perfect, but communication continues to be a key area of focus to improve our service”.

The council’s website states: “We are receiving a high volume of planning applications and enquiries. It may take longer than the statutory 8 or 13 weeks to determine your application.

“When applying for permission and planning works, you will need to factor this in. We may contact you to extend the time to deal with your application.”

We also asked the Guildford Conservative Association and the Guildford Greenbelt Group if they would like to comment.

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