BROMSGROVE District Council’s planning department is facing being placed into special measures by the Government after being named the joint slowest in the country at dealing with applications.
But, prior to the decision being made, the authority has sent a letter to the director of planning at the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
It stated there was now better customer service for planning applicants in Bromsgrove and officers were spending their time more efficiently.
Chief Executive Kevin Dicks said a new robust approach whereby officers spent more time with the applicants prior to the proposals being submitted had led to an 11 per cent increase in applications being given the green light – from 80 per cent to 91.
Coun Kit Taylor, whose portfolio covers planning, said the authority was in the process of updating systems and retraining staff and, in light of results being demonstrated, he was confident the situation would improve.
“What isn’t reflected in the figures that the DCLG are considering, is that our way of working leads to better customer satisfaction and less officers time being wasted on the same applications coming round and round again in the system.
“We are concentrating on what matters to the customer not hitting some arbitrary Government target.
“Whilst we obviously want to improve the times in which we determine applications we believe the quality of the decision and ultimately the development is far more important.”
He added he hoped the DCLG would see the adopted approach which was aimed at being more efficient and effective for customers.
But the situation has been condemned by theLabour Group Leader Coun Luke Mallett who questioned why, when services were shared between the two councils, Bromsgrove was at the bottom having dealt with 18 per cent of applications within 13 weeks and Redditch was mid-table on 61.5 per cent.
He called on the council leader and chief executive to bring planning officers back to Bromsgrove from Redditch to sort out all the problems.
“However you dress this up it is not good news for local residents the backlogs and delays mean we are the slowest performing planning
department in the country.
“The planning performance is the worst in the country.
“Planning officer vacancies are being filled by consultants.
“The Local Plan is in crisis.
“The former director of planning and regeneration, who took early retirement last year, is back doing the job of a planning officer.
“To cap it all there is now not a single planning officer permanently based in Bromsgrove – they’ve all been moved to Redditch.
“It’s no wonder there are backlogs running to months.”
Responding to Coun Mallett’s comments, Coun Taylor added whilst the main planning department had relocated to Redditch, a strong planning presence was retained in Bromsgrove with planning surgeries and on-hand help for applicants.
“I find it quite ludicrous that, with all the issues we are facing in local government, like family poverty and cuts to essential grants, we are being troubled over where somebody sits.”