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Letter: GBC Planning ‘Simply Not Good Enough’ Just Blaming Covid

Published on: 18 Oct, 2021
Updated on: 18 Oct, 2021

From David Smith

In response to Planning Backlog Increases As Councillor Says ‘It’s A Mess’

I think there are some wider issues here rather than just the increase in planning applications.

John Redpath suggesting he knows what he is talking about by congratulating the team on how they are handling this increase, to me just shows he doesn’t.

The [Guildford Borough Council] planning department do not appear to have adjusted their processes to mitigate and address these challenges.

Having had three case officers on my own recent application, the team to the extent I can understand it, seems to just reallocate work, stacking up the in-trays of individual caseworkers, leaving them responsible for their own arrears and then re-allocating cases when people like me complain.

I can only speak from my own experience but their caseworkers don’t answer calls, they don’t provide telephone numbers, they don’t acknowledge communications. And the so-called planning enquiries office didn’t up until recently even have a contact number. They promise a 15 day response to email queries but, in my case, they didn’t respond at all.

As a bare minimum, at a time like this, I would have expected communications to be acknowledged routinely, for a simple explanation to be given that there will be a delay, for an indicative timescale for a response. This can be achieved either by auto-replies or by clerical input. This is not difficult and it need not consume caseworker time.

I had also expected a recorded explanatory message on the planning enquiries phone line. And I would have expected a decent explanation and apology on the planning pages of the council’s website, over and above the generic message about Covid.

I can’t stress enough that these seem like the minimum steps they could take to provide some transparency and accountability – and at the same time help themselves by minimising the volume of progress-chasing contacts from applicants like me who simply want to know what is going on.

Instead we read about the delays on The Guildford Dragon NEWS.

I finally received planning on my property over six months after submitting the application (with extensive effort on my part and with ward councillors enlisted). One of the most frustrating thing for me was seeing much newer applications determined a lot quicker than my own (which was not controversial and had no objections).

Perhaps whoever is responsible should speak to the applicants and gauge their feedback on the process – it’s simply not good enough to keep using Covid as an excuse or saying there is a resourcing issue almost a year after it was first identified.

Completely separate to my personal annoyance, the whole process is surely suffocating growth in Guildford especially with commercial applications taking so long to be determined. The application for Ladymead Retail Park for example, which was to allow a new M&S food store was submitted in April 2020 and finally determined in Sepember 2021.

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Responses to Letter: GBC Planning ‘Simply Not Good Enough’ Just Blaming Covid

  1. Valerie Thompson Reply

    October 19, 2021 at 9:28 am

    Recently I attempted to contact the planning department as they had failed to upload details on a local application, which I needed to read.

    I waited for half an hour on the phone. No-one answered my call and the response to an email was bland and uninformative.

    Poor show, GBC!

  2. John Ferns Reply

    October 20, 2021 at 3:00 pm

    Living in Ash, in an area that has been swamped by a never-ending stream of piecemeal development over the last five years, I cannot be said to be any fan of the planning department.

    This area does not have the dubious protection provided by green belt status, so we have become the natural dumping ground for unconstrained development within the borough. The houses have continued to be built, the traffic issues have not improved, and our local road network is regularly being brought to a standstill by heavy lorries shuttling around the building sites. And all without the necessary infrastructure being in place, something that was mandated in the Local Plan.

    Inevitably, the west of the borough has contributed to the planning department’s woes If Surrey Highways and all other statutory consultees say there is no problem, then there is no problem. Their word is the law, and all applications are recommended for approval. Frequently the planning committee has said no, which has led to appeals, which in turn, undoubtedly have led to increasing workloads at Guildford, with more heavy work in sight as the highly controversial sites of Blackwell Farm, Wisley and Weyside have yet to be determined.

    Quite frankly, it is extraordinary that anyone is still left in the department given all the issues identified by Hugh Coakley in his recent article.

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