The Director (Planning & Development) advised that the report was produced at the request of Members and was the second of a regular series intended to be presented every six months to inform Members on current performance in respect of the planning service.
The Director (Planning & Development) highlighted key points from the report on performance information from the teams based within the Planning Service: Development Management, Planning Enforcement and Planning Policy as well as a short update on the Local Plan.
The Director (Planning & Development) and the Service Manager (Development Management) fielded questions from the Committee and explained that:
· The removal of development rights can be requested as a legitimate condition but there has to be a good reason to remove a right such as a change of use that would lead to excessive levels of noise or controlling outbuildings that would result in overdevelopment of their plot of land etc. Gravesham has a very good record of defending appeals and, with the lower case load during lockdown, officers have been able to review more cases that may not have been possible previously and refine use of conditions and grounds of refusal. Graph Figure 6 in the report outlines the percentages of permitted and refused application determinations
· A whole raft of changes have been implemented over the last year or so as the service reviewed the processes in place to help to deal with a backlog of applications. One of the major changes was to review the way applications were processed to be proportionate in time spent to the the Government-set fees. The Planning Team successfully managed to improve the application process while also minimising the amount of work and cost that was needed for each case
· Graph Figure 7 showed that the service was responding to more pre-application submissions than received due to better processes
· Not all major planning applications have to be submitted to the Planning Committee; the Council has delegated powers to deal with certain applications without going to Committee. Some major applications aren’t the type of scheme that Members might associate with that term; the application may only be classified as major due to the size of the land area affected, e.g. the construction of a fence around a large field and it would not be submitted to the Committee, unless formally requested by a Member
· It is our adopted practice that Major applications pertaining to key strategic sites will always be submitted to the Planning Committee, irrespective of a Member request
· Deferral of applications isn’t always a bad sign as they allow Councillors to request further information on the application, clarification of certain details or to seek further changes which may help the application receive permission
· Deferring applications did not impact the statistics significantly; Graph Figure 2 showed the Applications determined in time or within agreed Extension of Time period (%)
· The service no longer employed any agency staff; the last temporary member of staff was replaced by the Service Manager (Development Management)
· The other vacant posts were filled on a part time basis by experienced Planners who were able to hit the ground running and have been providing valuable expertise
· The previous two Planning Committees were cancelled due to lack of business, rather than due to lockdown, so there shouldn’t be a backlog of applications for upcoming Planning Committee meetings. However, the July Planning Committee meeting will have substantially larger agenda as The Charter, Clifton Slipways, M-Block and Fleet Leisure will all be going to Committee
For Members clarity, the Service Manager (Development Management) outlined the three types of planning applications:
· 10 or more dwellings / over half a hectare / building(s) exceeds 1000m²
Office / light industrial - 1000+ m² / 1+ hectare
· General industrial - 1000+ m² / 1+ hectare
· Retail - 1000+ m²/ 1+ hectare
· Gypsy/traveller site - 10+ pitches
· Site area exceeds 1 hectare
· 1-9 dwellings (unless floorspace exceeds 1000m² / under half a hectare
· Office / light industrial - up to 999 m²/ under 1 hectare
· General industrial - up to 999 m²/ under 1 Hectare
· Retail - up to 999 m²/ under 1 hectare
· Gypsy/traveller site - 0-9 pitches
· Householder applications
· Change of use (no operational development)
· Listed building extensions / alterations
· Listed building demolition
· Application for relevant demolition of an unlisted building within a Conservation Area
· Certificates of Lawfulness (191 and 192)
· Permissions in Principle (PiP) and Technical Detail Consent (TDC)
The Director (Planning & Development) assured the Committee that he would find examples of the different types of applications and circulate them to Members after the meeting.
The Committee made several requests:
· Members of the Committee should meet the new Planning staff after the lockdown to get to know them more personally
· An email needed to be circulated to Members providing clarity on what constituted as a major application, what ones would automatically be brought to the Planning Committee by officers and Members ability to call in any major application
The Director (Planning & Development) advised that he would give some thought to organising a virtual meeting for Members to meet with the new Planning staff and circulate an email outside of the meeting regarding major planning applications. The Director (Planning & Development) added that Members were welcome to contact the relevant planning officer dealing with an application and discuss their views/concerns with them before requesting anything be submitted to the Planning Committee.
The Chair summarised the discussion of the report to the Committee and asked that the Director (Planning Development) include the protocol to call in planning applications to the Planning Committee in his email outside of the meeting.
The Committee gave their thanks to officers for compiling the report and sustaining performance during lockdown.
Members were happy with the six month reporting schedule for the report and noted the information contained within the document.