Link to homepage

Agenda item

Development Management Review

To endorse the Council’s response to the recent Development Management review; approve the high level action plan, attached at Appendix 1 to the report; and agree that the Transform Working Group will monitor delivery of the action plan.

Subject To Call In::No - Ongoing Matter.

Decision:

1.    That the Council’s response to the review be ENDORSED and the high-level action plan attached to the report be APPROVED.

2.    That the Transform Working Group monitor the delivery of the action plan.

Minutes:

56.1           The report of the Head of Development Services, circulated at Pages No. 13-34, outlined how the Council planned to respond to the findings of the review undertaken into the Development Management service which was focussed on the delivery of a high-level action plan that encompassed the recommendations from the final review report.

56.2           The Head of Development Services explained that, as Members would be aware, POS Enterprises had recently undertaken a review of the Council’s Development Management Service. The review had looked at areas such as performance, structure, software, procedures and customer satisfaction and found a number of strengths in the service in respect of motivated staff, good systems, good public speaking procedures at Committee, well informed Committee debate and effective procedures introduced through lockdown; however, there were also areas identified for improvement which were listed within the report. In response to the issues highlighted, it was proposed that a corporate project would be set up with support from the Corporate Services Manager which would enable the workstreams to be driven forward as part of a corporate programme. The principles for the review were to ensure the outcomes were implemented looking at customer focus and ensuring development management was shaped around the needs of the customer meaning customer service was improved. Tewkesbury Borough Council was an ambitious authority so it needed to ensure it was able to respond to the growth agenda, that its staff were empowered and that high performance was both expected and achieved. Using the skills and expertise of the Business Transformation team and Corporate Services Manager meant change could be achieved more easily, particularly in terms of digital services.

56.3           A high-level action plan was being put together in response to the POS Enterprises report which set out a number of recommendations for the Council to take forward and the action plan would address those in the short, medium and long term. Paragraph 4.2 of the report set out how the programme of work had been split into workstreams: corporate ambition – setting out the foundations of the preferred direction for the Development Management service; performance management – ensuring performance management was meaningful with effective monitoring and management in place; processes and transformation  - reviewing the way the service worked to ensure a customer focus and adoption of a ‘digital by default’ approach to processes; Planning Committee – reviewing all aspects of the Planning Committee including the Scheme of Delegation and training; and people and culture – reviewing the organisation of the service, the empowerment of staff and the culture of the teams. There was a lot more work to do on each workstream and each would have its own team, action and timescales; at this point the Executive Committee was asked to endorse the Council’s response to the review and agree the high-level action plan with the Transform Working Group monitoring the delivery of that action plan.

56.4           A Member noted that the consultants had found several things that needed to be ironed out, most of which was not unexpected; however, the suggestion that the Planning Committee may need to be reduced in size was not something with which he agreed. He was of the view that a larger Committee, the size of Tewkesbury Borough Council’s, was not a weakness but rather was a strength. In terms of the Scheme of Delegation, he agreed that there were a number of applications which came before the Planning Committee due to Parish Council objections and there was often no debate on those so there could be merit in reviewing that to see how improvements could be made.

56.5           Referring to the priorities list at Paragraph 3.4 of the report, a Member referred to point 3 – change the emphasis of the role of the DM Manager/team leaders away from detailed intervention in individual applications to managing the application process – allowing planners to be empowered to make recommendations without constantly referring them to managers – he felt this would be a complex process and there may be staff who needed guidance through that so he questioned how that would be handled. In addition, he agreed that Members did not wish to see a change in the number on Planning Committee as the current arrangement worked well as it was. Finally, in respect of the Planning Scheme of Delegation, he feared a loss of democracy if Parishes and local Ward Members did not get a sufficient input to the decision-making process on planning applications and he questioned whether there was a need for training on the grounds under which applications could be called in rather than excluding them. In response, the Head of Development Services explained that there would be support and mentoring for junior and less experienced Officers but the aim was to empower Officers to make more decisions themselves; the Development Manager should not be involved in every detail of every application. In terms of the size of the Committee, the consultants had looked at best practice but they had also observed the Council’s Committee and felt the debate was well informed. In respect of the Scheme of Delegation, she confirmed there was no intention for people not to have a voice; however, it had been found that it cost ten times more to take an application to Committee than to have an application decided under Officer delegation and currently there were a number of minor applications that went to Committee only because they had been called in by Parishes so the Council had to consider how best to use its limited resources.

56.6           A Member referred to Page No. 33 of the report – AP48 – consider introducing a procedure where Members are considering granting an application against Officer advice (overturns), to ensure appropriate conditions are fully explored prior to determination -  and questioned what was meant by this. In response, the Borough Solicitor advised that this was designed to streamline the process so the Committee knew what it would impose when it made the decision. It was not meant to pre-determine applications but to have some thoughts in mind about what conditions would be needed to make an application work. A Member noted that, until relatively recently, when the Committee decided an application against the Officer recommendation Members expected Officers to come up with the reasons/conditions and now Members were asked to come up with those conditions/reasons which took a lot of time at the meeting. The report from the consultants suggested the development of a core set of conditions to make the process more expedient. She was of the view that there had been quite a few minor applications that need not have been taken to the Planning Committee which was a waste of Officer resources, Member time and public money so there was a need to make changes. She agreed that Member involvement through the Transform Working Group was important and she was pleased the project was being taken forward at a corporate level rather than just through the Development Management service as had been the case following other reviews.

56.7           Referring to the difference between the Uniform and Enterprise systems, the Head of Development Services explained that Uniform was the system the team used to input the application details, process the applications and put together the Committee reports etc. Enterprise was the project management system but was not used as effectively as it could be for processes like tracking applications and monitoring performance. It was a problem that there were no procedure manuals for the systems to ensure consistency/using the whole system as effectively as possible and the Business Transformation team was supporting the review to show how the systems could be used better to minimise procedures.

56.8           Referring to Page No. 23 of the report – AP11 – report on enforcement activity annually to the Planning Committee and AP12 – institute enforcement management reports for the enforcement team on at least a quarterly basis - a Member asked why one was reported annually and one quarterly. In response, the Head of Development Services advised that these were yet to be introduced but she was not sure of the reasons for the different monitoring times so she would check and advise Members accordingly. In addition, the Head of Corporate Services explained that Overview and Scrutiny Committee Members had felt they were not getting a full picture of what enforcement did and wanted more proactive communications, possibly on a monthly basis, on the work of the team. The email that went out would include more detail and would be more frequent than annually. In terms of recruitment, the Head of Development Services advised that the Senior Enforcement Officer had been appointed from within the team so there was now a vacancy for an Enforcement Officer – an unsuccessful recruitment process had taken place and it would be advertised again soon. In terms of the Section 106 Monitoring Officer, she confirmed an appointment had been made on a two-year fixed term contract to support the Section 106 system including addressing the process, monitoring the gaps and getting plans in place for affordable housing so there was a big piece of work for the role. There were some systems already in place but the new postholder would be looking to build on that more robustly.

56.9           A Member expressed the view that all applicants should be treated fairly whether they were individuals or large developers and the Head of Development Services confirmed there was no intention to disregard anyone but the Council needed to use its resources as effectively as possible ensuring that applications were dealt with in the most efficient and way within the resources available. A Member noted that there used to be a system for daily updates on validated applications and in recent weeks enforcement had been added to that – she assumed this would continue and urged all Members to ensure they had access to that system.  The Head of Development Services confirmed that all Members could be sent the relevant link should they request it. Another Member expressed the view that the POS Enterprises report showed the Council had certain systematic problems and went some way to address those. He was of the view that Members needed to ensure Parish Council objections had sound planning reasons which they should be prepared to substantiate at Committee which would cut down the number of minor applications being considered.

56.10         A Member asked for an explanation of the process of a delegated application and the Head of Development Services advised that, if a planning application was acceptable and fell within delegated powers, Officers could make the decision. If an application went to Committee a report was produced along with presentation material which involved a substantial amount of work from other Officers in One Legal and Democratic Services as well as the Development Management team.

56.11         The action plan included the recommendations from the consultants and Members were asked to consider the plan and approach being taken to the project. It was reiterated that this was not about changing policies but approving workstreams and any changes would go through the formal process. The Transform Working Group would provide Member engagement and the Committee was also asked to endorse that approach. A Member referred to Page No. 27 of the report – AP26 – find an effective way to involve elected Members in pre-application work for large-scale major applications with clear protocols in place and extensive training provided for all those likely to be involved – and questioned whether this would be introducing a new tier to the process or whether it was instead of the Committee. In response, the Head of Development Services explained that the intention was to set up a protocol so before planning applications went to Committee there was an opportunity to be briefed and ask questions without pre-determination – this would provide a way for Councillors to be involved early in the process. There would always be safeguards in any Scheme of Delegation and if any of those were triggered the application would automatically be submitted to the Committee.

56.12         Accordingly, it was

Action By:HDS

Supporting documents: