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Guildford Hits Bottom of National League Tables for Planning Performance

Published on: 1 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 1 Jan, 2023

By Hugh Coakley

GBC has been placed at the bottom of a national government table for deciding non-major planning applications on time.

Only 24 per cent of non-major planning applications, by far the most numerous category of applications at the borough council, were decided on time in Q3 2022. This is a drop from 60 per cent in the previous three months.

Only 24 per cent of non-major planning applications to GBC were decided on time in Q3 2022 says government statistics. It put Guildford as the worst-performing council in the country for this category.

The crisis in planning delays has forced the council to, once again, suspend the pre-application enquiry service 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.

Lead for development management, Tom Hunt (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) said the statistics “show that our performance levels are not improving as fast as we would like.  Since the end of June we have reduced the backlog of non-major planning applications but we realise we still need to do more.”

GBC planning performance for non-major planning applications since 2010. The percentage decided on time has been getting worse since the pandemic in 2020.

Major applications include developments with ten dwellings or more. Non-major consents include householder applications, change of use, adverts and listed buildings.

Of the total 467 planning decisions in the latest quarter, householder developments were by far the greatest number at 329. There were 47 dwellings decided, 29 listed building consents and 11 changes of use.

Dragon reader David Smith commented in September 2022: “I’ve had two terrible dealings with this department, both for applications with no objections (the second application being a 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.

“I have no idea how Cllr Tom Hunt is still in post – anywhere else he would have been expected to stand down.”

Adjacent councils, Waverley and Epsom and Ewell fared little better in the national tables, coming out only just above bottom-listed Guildford. They had 24 monthly rolling averages of 62 and 52 per cent compared to GBC’s 46 per cent for non-major applications.

Cllr Tom Hunt

Cllr Hunt said: “Over the last few months, we have been working hard to reduce the backlog of planning applications. A clear priority has been to speed up our assessment process and provide quicker decisions. We have employed external planning consultants and temporary planning officers to improve performance. We intend to extend these arrangements to supplement our internal planning team.

“We are also reviewing the structure and resources in our planning service. We have appointed an interim Head of Planning Development and we are recruiting more planning officers. The nationwide shortage of planning officers, particularly in the South East, is making it hard to recruit.”

GBC has been below the 70 per cent designated threshold for non-major decisions decided in time for the last seven quarters since January 2021. The Dragon has asked GBC if the council has been formally designated or is in danger of being formally designated by the government, meaning applicants can, “have the option of being able to apply directly to the Planning Inspectorate?”

See: 250 Planning Applications In Limbo As Guildford Lies Near the Bottom Of National Tables (September 2022)

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test 3 Responses to Guildford Hits Bottom of National League Tables for Planning Performance

  1. David Smith Reply

    January 1, 2023 at 6:35 pm

    Sad to see that things have not improved.

    One of the team’s strategies seems to be to convince applicants to agree an extension to the statutory deadline. The team can be disingenuous when saying why they are asking you to do this. They told me “it helps focus case holders to deadlines”; in reality they are trying to improve stats.

    If you agree to a month extension for example, and the planning team determines that application within that additional time, then in terms of targets it means they’ve determined the application on time.

    Don’t fall for it.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    January 2, 2023 at 8:50 am

    Perhaps if GBC’s planning officers and councillors spent less time kow-towing to developers of large sites, they would get more done on the everyday planning applications.

  3. Peter Mills Reply

    January 3, 2023 at 12:58 pm

    It would be good to have some context here. Maybe the above stat in ratio to the number of staff or overall cost of running the department. The residents of Guildford could then decide whether the department is just inefficient and hold the appropriate people to account or, whether we are all happy to pay more council tax for a better service.

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