Fringe Box



Slow Decisions Might Cause Government to Limit GBC Planning Powers

Published on: 5 Feb, 2023
Updated on: 7 Feb, 2023

By Hugh Coakley

The government has written to Guildford Borough Council demanding an explanation for its poor performance on the slow speed of decisions on non-major developments. It says the council “may be liable for designation” under the Planning Act if it cannot show “exceptional circumstances that have affected your authority’s performance”.

If the council was designated, applicants for non-major developments could bypass GBC planning and go directly to the Planning Inspectorate for a decision.

The government has told GBC it may be designated for non major planning applications

Only 46 per cent of applications were decided on time in the last reported quarter (Q3 2022) against a national target of 70 per cent.

It is understood that 16 other councils have also been put through the humiliating process of having to defend their performance on what GBC has called “the importance of the planning function” for councils.

As reported in The Dragon in January (see GBC Planning Could be Designated for Special Measures due to Poor Performance), Guildford is firmly at the bottom of the non-major speed tables nationally.

Guildford Borough Council is thought to be one of 17 councils nationally who may be “designated” for poor performance in deciding planning applications.

GBC told The Dragon that action by the government would “only affect non-major applications excluding householder applications”. We have asked for more details on who would be affected.

There have been calls for Cllr Tom Hunt to consider his position as the GBC planning lead,

GBC has responded to the government saying their performance had previously been good but it had “collapsed from mid-2021 to 2022”.

They blamed a “failure to negotiate extensions of time” with applicants, a new corporate structure within the council, a staffing crisis and a “marked increase” in applications.

In a bid to stave off the government’s threat to strip them of some of their planning responsibilities, GBC said they were committed to improve their performance “by investing in the service, engaging additional resources, implementing an Improvement Action Plan and monitoring and driving the necessary change through a Planning Development Improvement Board”.

They said their commitment was demonstrated by the investment in the planning operation of a supplementary budget of £481,200 for 2022-23 and £488,100 for 2023-24 to “address the temporary poor performance and ensure a resilient planning service”.

They noted that to punish the council now “would do more harm than good” by affecting staffing and damaging confidence within the service.

GBC declined to comment on why Guildford was performing worse than other boroughs in determining non-major applications.

With the failure to find a chair for the planning meeting this week and the poor performance of the planning department, there have been calls for GBC’s planning lead, Tom Hunt (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas), to consider his position.

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Responses to Slow Decisions Might Cause Government to Limit GBC Planning Powers

  1. RWL Davies Reply

    February 5, 2023 at 4:00 pm

    No surprises there then. Be interesting to see what eventuates.

  2. M Durant Reply

    February 7, 2023 at 10:23 am

    GBC doesn’t have enough staff.

    Since the pandemic a lot of people from London have moved to Guildford. I am sure they want to extend their homes and make changes requiring planning consent, so GBC has a much higher level of applications to deal with than normal.

    Also the combination of low wages with the cost of living increases, I am sure, doesn’t really inspire people to go work in a stressful low-paid environment.

    It would be interesting to see the under performing politicians and those unelected in central government dealing with this. What could possibly go wrong?

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