Councillor Tom Hunt’s areas of responsibility are Development Control and Enforcement.
The Chair welcomed the Lead Councillor for Development Management and reminded the meeting that Councillor Hunt’s areas of responsibility were Development Control and Enforcement. The Chair advised the meeting that Councillor Hunt had requested to make an opening statement.
The Lead Councillor for Development Management referred to the high number of planning applications facing Local Planning Authorities, including Guildford. He indicated that when he had taken on his executive portfolio in March 2021, he had been warned by officers that the backlog in applications would not be remedied quickly. He advised the meeting that recruitment of planners was challenging and the Council’s team of 18 planners was supplemented by contract resources. He announced that the pre-application service suspended in April 2021 would be reinstated for all categories of applications from 1 March 2022.
The Lead Councillor for Development Management advised the meeting of the introduction of significant management information concerning planning applications, although he stated that such information was not yet in report form. He advised that the monthly average of applications received each month over the previous year was 228, with an average of 217 validated and 175 determined each month. The Lead Councillor for Development Management indicated that in January 2022 the backlog of planning applications was 918, compared with 514 in January 2021. He suggested the Council should consider increasing the size of the planning team. In addition, the Lead Councillor for Development Management indicated that resourcing challenges had affected the planning application validation process and the publishing of applications on the Council’s planning portal.
The Lead Councillor for Development Management advised the meeting of the increase in the planning enforcement team because of the Future Guildford transformation programme. He stated that the number of new planning enforcement cases had increased from an average of 35 each month in 2020 to 43 each month in 2021.
During the following discussion a number of points were made and clarifications offered:
· In response to a request from a Committee member, the Lead Councillor for Development Management indicated he would see if he could prepare an update summarising his opening statement to share with Councillors and members of the public.
· In reply to a question, the Lead Councillor for Development Management stated that non-determination appeals were not recorded specifically within the overall numbers of appeals. The Chair suggested the value of obtaining such information.
· A member of the Committee asked for details of the availability and sharing of information on section 106 agreements and monies. In reply, the Lead Councillor for Development Management advised that a report on section 106 contributions was scheduled for consideration by the Corporate Governance and Standards Committee in April 2022. He agreed to consider the cadence and content of reporting section 106 information.
· With reference to planning enforcement, the Regulatory Services Manager advised of actions to lessen the caseloads of officers, including a review of older cases.
· A member of the Committee noted that the monthly summary reports of planning enforcement cases had limited information and requested that Councillors have greater access to information. In reply, the Lead Councillor for Development Management outlined the data protection and legal difficulties of allowing Councillors to access planning enforcement information and suggested that Councillors continue to contact relevant officers as necessary.
· The Lead Councillor for Development Management advised the meeting that the criteria for prioritising enforcement was set out within the Local Enforcement Plan on the Council’s website.
· In reply to a question, the Lead Councillor for Development Management confirmed that compliance with section 106 agreements was tracked by the Council’s Specialist - Development Management (S106 & Community Infrastructure Levy) Officer. The Director for Service Delivery indicated that the Council had a duty to report on section 106.
· The Lead Councillor for Development Management indicated that the skillset and structure of the planning team was satisfactory.
· In response to a question, the meeting was advised by the Director for Service Delivery that when the Council had to enforce against itself openness and transparency were important, and he suggested that the corporate management team should monitor such instances.
· In response to a request from a Councillor, the Lead Councillor for Development Management undertook to investigate the delay in approval of two Conservation Area Character Appraisals, for Effingham and West Horsley respectively.
The Chair thanked the Lead Councillor for Development Management for attending and answering questions.