9 June 2016

Planning service's steps to improve performance is working

Brighton & Hove’s planning service is making a sustained effort to reduce the delays on deciding planning applications and the work is paying off with the numbers of ‘out of time’ applications more than halved.

By May planning staff had reduced the backlog to 210 applications, from 500 in August 2015.

Despite maintaining a good level of turnaround on major planning applications, with improved performance every year for the last three years, the service experienced serious issues in 2015 with staff shortages and a slippage of minor applications not being decided on time.

The council asked the national Planning Advisory Service to help focus efforts to improve the whole service, from policy making and collaborating with developers and agents to giving advice and decision-making.

Councillor Julie Cattell, recently appointed lead member for planning strategy, said: “We invited in a peer review team to help us address performance issues and their findings backed up our own thinking of what needed to be done. Our planning officers have worked extremely hard and have more than halved the backlog on decisions over the past nine months. We now need to support them to carry on achieving positive results and developing a great service for customers.”

Some of the improvements underway include:

  • streamlining the registration and ‘validation’ process
  • using electronic, rather than paper file systems
  • smoother decision-making using case officer expertise with managers more focused on  performance management and engaging with members and developers
  • better prioritising of new applications
  • setting up an oversight programme led by senior managers to lead, support and develop staff in taking forward the work

The city planning team will be working with customers over the next few months to find out how they can better provide pre-application advice, enable well designed proposals to be processed speedily and effectively and make service delivery more consistent.

Council leader Warren Morgan added: “We know that our partners and customers have a high regard for our frontline planners and this was borne out by the PAS report. They’ve worked productively and embraced new challenges to make these improvements and we will build on that to create the right environment for the service to develop and support the growth that Brighton & Hove and its partners have planned for the period up to 2030.”

The council recently recruited several new planning officers which is also helping get the service back on track.

Cross-party collaboration and widespread consultation resulted in the City Plan Part 1 being successfully adopted in March 2016. The PAS report recognises this as a ‘significant achievement’ which ‘provides a strong platform for housing and economic growth.’ City Plan Part 2 will develop more streamlined policy which will make decision-making easier and quicker for front-line planners, as well as for those submitting applications.

Longer term, planners will be looking to introduce a Community Infrastructure Levy scheme. This will ensure that developers will make appropriate contributions towards broader city-wide infrastructure projects.

More information

Planning peer challenges are organised by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Planning Advisory Service (PAS). They are carried out by trained officers and councillors from other councils. They are delivered by the sector for the sector

Peer challenges are tailored to meet the needs of the council concerned. This challenge team looked at the following aspects of Brighton & Hove’s programme:

  • Is it focused on the right areas?
  • What more can we do to address the backlog?
  • How can the service be more responsive, innovative and commercial?
  • Is the service too process driven and risk averse?
  • How can the service address staff morale and retention?

They set out 13 recommendations for service improvement.

The peer review team was in Brighton and Hove from 22 to 24 March 2016. They met councillors, officers and representatives from developers and applicants actively involved in planning in the City.

More information in the Planning Advisory Service report