To receive a presentation from the Director of Planning & Building Control.
The Director of Planning and Building Control gave a detailed presentation to Members that covered the planning validation process; consultation; case officer allocation and workloads; and the decision making process.
There were two sets of criteria the planning application should follow in order to reach the validation process. The impact of not receiving quality applications resulted in a back-log of validations and the number of valid applications that were received was very low.
Members were informed whilst applications could be submitted via the planning portal, a large proportion was still received via the paper format. The planning team still generated a significant amount of paper but work was underway to look at the way it could be improved, such as producing CDs with plans, or having specialised scanners. The improvement of the new GIS system allowed for link with the Ocella system and would improve performance.
A checklist was being prepared to aide the applications received to ensure the application followed the validation process quicker.
The Chairman asked if there was a reason for the lack of planning submissions through the planning portal. Whilst the answer to this was not known, work was underway to collaborate with planning agents to encourage them to submit their plans on-line.
The main issue with the consultation process was that consultees may not respond in time. However, for smaller scale applications a local flood authority officer sat with planning to work on planning applications. Whilst a deadline could be given, a decision could be made in the absence of that consultation information, but that was on a case by case basis.
A Member asked that if a planning application was delayed within their ward that they should be informed. The Director of Planning and Building Control said the way in which the reports were generated did not always recognise if an application had been delayed, but work was underway to resolve the reporting mechanism.
Case Officer Allocation and workloads
The average case load at any one time was 40 applications per officer. There was a case officer with 51 live cases in their name, however some were in abeyance as not all information had been received, but were still allocated. It was expected that the junior officers would have a higher number of cases, whereas the principle officers had lower levels due to the complexity of cases.
There were currently two vacancies within the team, and members were informed how it was particularly difficult to recruit to vacancies within the District. However, in order to assist the team, there were a pool of 11 officers in the organisation who worked across the country, supported applications for Breckland Council and helped to unlock the ability of those that were local.
Decision Making Process
The Director for Planning and Building Control explained how Capita worked in partnership with Breckland to make recommendations but it was a Breckland Council officer who made a final decision.
A recent review of the Planning Committee had been carried out by the Planning Advisory Service of which an action plan had been produced to make amendments.
Councillor Richmond raised concern that if an Officer who worked away from Breckland dealt with a case that required a site visit it would get missed and they would not be aware of local situations. The Director of Planning and Building Control said where there was an expectation of a site visit then there was a need for the case officer to know the area and visit the site. However, if there were individual cases where it did not happen it should be reported to him.
The Chairman thanked the Director of Planning and Building Control for his report and asked if Members had further questions they should be directed through the Democratic Services Officer.