Fringe Box



GBC Planning Could Be Designated for Special Measures Due to Poor Performance

Published on: 8 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 12 Jan, 2023

By Hugh Coakley

The lead councillor for Planning at GBC has warned the council could be “designated” for special measures by the government because of its poor performance in determining applications on time.

If the council is designated, applicants could apply directly to the Planning Directorate, cutting out the GBC planning department altogether.

Cllr Tom Hunt (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) the lead councillor for planning development, said: “We haven’t been formally designated by the government, but it is a course of action that government could choose to take.

“We anticipate that the measures we are taking will improve the situation. We are doing all we can to speed up the planning application process for residents and businesses.”

See: Guildford Hits Bottom Of National League Tables For Planning Performance (January 2023)

The increase in planning applications after covid and the difficulty in GBC retaining and recruiting staff have resulted in long delays in determining applications and complaints from the public.

Only 24% of GBC non-major planning applications were decided on time in Q3 2022. (Click on image to enlarge.)

In particular, household submissions have been badly hit with only 24 per cent being decided on time in Q3 2022. This had GBC languishing at the bottom of a national league of district and borough councils for non-major planning applications. The pre-application service has been suspended for non-major developments. It was only reinstated in March this year.

Performance on major planning applications was better at 89 per cent on time in Q3 2022. But this still placed Guildford in the bottom fifth of district and borough councils nationally, coming in at 261 in the table out of 329 councils.

Government guidance states: “Where an authority is designated [as underperforming], applicants may apply directly to the Planning Inspectorate (on behalf of the Secretary of State) for the category of applications (major, non-major or both) for which the authority has been designated.”

Cllr Tom Hunt said they were doing all they could “to speed up the planning application process”.

Hunt said: “Staffing is an ongoing challenge and officer caseloads remain very high. So, we continue to employ consultants and temporary staff. We are also seeking to recruit more planning officers to reduce the backlog even more.”

This would appear to be bearing fruit with live applications down from 892 at the end of June 2022 to 664 at the end of December 2022.

Hunt said: “This was partly due to a reduction in the number of applications received. But we also decided more applications.”

The reduction in outstanding applications only takes it down to the level experienced in April 2021 when there were 650 undetermined applications. Ian Doyle, director of service delivery at the time said: “We normally have between 300 and 360 outstanding. New staff members will soon be joining us.”

The crisis in the planning department was highlighted by The Dragon in April 2021 (Backlog Of Planning Applications Doubles At GBC).

Waverley borough which borders Guildford to the south west, and which shares some posts in the senior management team, is also experiencing difficulties with deciding planning applications on time and is only just above GBC in the national tables.

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Responses to GBC Planning Could Be Designated for Special Measures Due to Poor Performance

  1. David Roberts Reply

    January 8, 2023 at 12:24 pm

    Some of us have long argued that the solution is in GBC’s own hands. Performance is measured in percentage of planning applications decided in time. This percentage could easily be boosted by prioritising applications by their number rather than their size.

    This would:
    – give higher priority to the quick through-put of small, uncontentious applications supporting the taxpaying residents who file them;
    – stop GBC resources being diverted into a small number of very large, contentious and complex applications made by big, non-resident housebuilders whose only interest in the borough is financial gain;
    – thereby save taxpayers’ money by reducing the need to employ expensive additional staff just to meet the performance target;
    – avoid the confrontations with the public currently caused by the rushed consideration of large applications;
    – produce sounder, more considered decisions on complex applications that are less open to challenge and reversal;
    – boost staff morale by promoting an ethic of service to ordinary members of the public rather than to big, rich developers;
    – strengthen local democracy, accountability and transparency, reversing the regulatory capture of planning services by the development industry.

    Reprioritisation can be applied by simple administrative fiat. But this means councillors would have to stand up to planning officers who regard themselves as a branch of the development industry, who measure career success in terms of large building schemes approved.

    It might also mean deploying the rational arguments above to smash any legal challenge from big companies on “non-determination” grounds. GBC has never shown the guts for this.

  2. Brian Edmonds Reply

    January 8, 2023 at 4:19 pm

    Speed is an unacceptable single performance measure. It is likely to produce unpredictable, poor design especially when the charge for planning applications is often below the cost of processing planning applications.

    Sustainable development and good design require a means of measuring the quality of planning decisions.

  3. Harry Angel Reply

    January 9, 2023 at 4:52 pm

    GBC Planning is the theoretical love-child of a man named Unnecessary Obstructiveness and a woman entitled Precedent Paranoia.

    Having dealt with them extensively over the past few years, this news of their impending appointment to The Naughty Step is almost routine, banal even.

    Just approve the minor applications.

    Five simple words, which would solve so much.

    Just approve them GBC, cut through the keyboard warriors and Nimbys, recognise that in the most expensive county in the country homeowners are going to benefit fiscally from improvements made to their houses (after all, they paid through the nose for the privilege of living here), and focus on the really big impactful developments which genuinely affect the green belt for the worse.

    It’s all just some sort of red tape nightmare, and this news is the inevitable result.

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