Members were presented with a short presentation outlining the performance of the Council’s Planning Services; the presentation can be accessed through the below link:
The Director (Planning & Development) advised that the report was produced at the request of Members and was the first of a regular series intended to be presented every six months to inform Members on current performance in respect of the planning service. The report included performance information on all the teams based within the Planning Service: Development Management, Planning Enforcement and Planning Policy.
The Director (Planning & Development) advised the Committee that as it was the first report it gave background information, the required processes and what the constraints were that the service faced; performance figures from the last two year period were included. The Director (Planning & Development) asked Members to identify any other areas of performance that they wished to see within the next six monthly performance report.
The Director (Planning & Development) highlighted difficulties the Planning Service at Gravesham faced:
· Staff vacancies were an issue as over the last couple of years (seen on slide 2) the Development Management and Planning Policy teams have been down at least two members of staff, with turnover having an added impact
· Currently there are three posts out to advert as another officer is leaving the Service at the end of the week
· A difficulty the Serviced faced linked to the vacancies was the consistency of them as when one staff member left, another joined resulting in a state of forever training up new officers costing officer time and resources
· Fully qualified Planners were an increasingly scarce resource as they were highly sought after by the private sector and local authorities couldn’t match the salaries offered by those private companies. For example, Gravesham lost several senior Planners to the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, which offers higher salaries
The Director (Planning & Development) explained that on a more positive note, the Council had been lucky to attract a small number of recent graduates who would be trained up within Gravesham with the aspiration of making them qualified Planners. Additionally, a number of female staff had been employed who all worked flexible hours as part of their childcare arrangements; even though they only worked three days a week each they provided their years of experience to the role making them valuable. Further information can be included on resourcing in the next update report.
The Director (Planning & Development) highlighted further key headlines from the report and presentation regarding the types of planning Appeals, planning decisions and national figures.
The Director (Planning & Development) and the Assistant Director (Planning) fielded questions from the Committee explaining that:
· The Council paid national wages that were in line with the salaries in other Borough Councils; ‘golden hellos’ have been seen in other local authorities but they are not exercised at Gravesham as they were seen as divisive for the existing staff
· The cost of training up graduates to a higher level of education was not a great amount when compared to the loyalty that was received from officers who have had their careers furthered by the Council. Additionally some of the cost of training could be offset through various means, including the Apprenticeships Levy
· Some Councils have struggled to attract fully qualified Planners and as such have taken the Planners out of the NJC pay scale to be able to pay more but Gravesham had not reached that level of need and will continue to pay in line with the NJC pay scale
· Most building tends to take place during the summer but planning permission has to be in place first so planning permission was sought all year round; a full analysis on the busiest time for submission of planning applications has not been conducted
· The recent Peer Challenge highlighted the friendliness of staff and the work of the team
· Gravesham’s Planning Department has the most flexible working arrangements of any Planning Department in the County due to its IT equipment; staff could work from anywhere at all with the equipment they have been provided with. They can access all of the necessary documents on their Surface Pros meaning flexible working due to childcare etc was not an issue. Due to that flexibility and the range of helpful equipment, it increased the attractiveness of working at Gravesham ; the hope was that more candidates would come through hearing of Gravesham arrangements from word of mouth between other local authorities
· A consultancy agency has been used in the past with mixed results; Richard McEllistrum (Interim Planning Development Manager) has been very successful at GBC however previous experience of other agency staff has been less than positive. Additionally, some staff resented the idea of the agency staff getting paid more for the same job however it was pointed out that they weren’t receiving any pension payments, only getting paid for working hours and the agency took a substantial cut of the increased pay
· When an application was received via the planning portal there was a period of five working days to validate the application for minors and ten for majors; officers were alerted via an electronic notification. Some applications did take a lot longer to validate but that was usually down to the applications not being complete or the fee not being paid
· Key sites around Gravesend were being monitored including the old Police Station, the Heritage Quarter, the planned development at Lord Street, the old M Block Hospital land and the Clifton Slipways development; a number of those developments were already moving forward. No threats of compulsory purchases orders have been given but GBC were still prepared to go down that route if it was absolutely necessary
· The Council took applicants for jobs who state that they have a disability seriously and accommodated where possible; indeed on job specifications it was highlighted that if disabled applicants met the minimum criteria requirements they would be shortlisted for an interview. Unfortunately the disabled applicants that the Council received so far for planning roles have not met the minimum criteria requirements. The Council was fully aware of its responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act
The Director (Planning & Development) agreed to include the following information in the next six monthly update report:
· A guide on the quality of the first submission of planning applications and if they were validated within the five / ten working days of receipt
· Figures on the percentage of planning applications that were submitted correctly the first time and the degree of improvement after six months
Further information on key Brownfield sites that had
their development stalled, key
s sites within Gravesend that needed developing and the
progress of the planned development.
The Director (Planning & Development) agreed with the Chair’s comments and offered the below response to the third point:
· A working group was already meeting and looking at the key sites that had been sitting unused in the Town for a long time and work with the owners of the pieces of land to bring development forward
The Chair thanked the Director (Planning & Development) and Assistant Director (Planning) for the comprehensive report and asked for the next report to focus less on background and more on trends, reasons for exceptional/dipping performance and what improvements have been made during the six month period.
The Committee asked that congratulations be passed back to the Planning Teams for their fantastic work and their delivery of the significant improvements to the department during the last two years.
- 191119 Strategic Environment Committee Report, item 20. PDF 199 KB
- 191119 Strategic Environment Committee, item 20. PDF 184 KB