But – for how long?
Sally Busby FCMI Waverley’s Planning & Economic Development Business & Performance Manager has updated councillors and the frustrated public on the council’s planning service improvements.
However, it is not out of the woods yet – due to rising applications and staff shortages.
But she says: “There is now a clear vision of the wood amongst the trees. Not withstanding the resource challenges and a long road ahead, there is a direction of forward motion for planning.”
Is that a sigh of relief we hear?
The lack of experienced planning officers is now hitting local authorities the length and breadth of the country.
Why? Waverley Web wonders? Could it be that they are all working for wannabe developers? Or, are house prices too high?
Here’s her update on progress. VALIDATION: Project Clearance
With Covid working adjustments and Horizon teething problems playing a part, validation of applications became significantly backlogged and subject to delay. Project Clearance sought to resolve issues, streamline processes, and improve customer, partner, and client service.
DATE Applications awaiting review for validation
July 2021 697 in backlog (5 days or older)
November 2021 389 in backlog
January 2022 24 in backlog
March 2022 2 in the backlog – oldest application currently on hand 17th March 2022.
Summary: as you will see from the above snapshots in time, the extensive validation backlog has been cleared to the point shown, which now primarily runs to the local requirements of validation within five days of receipt of an application.
Sally Busby Commented: With a clear direction moving forward, the business support team is now focused on continued work for change, customer focus and service improvement. The next projects are process review, continued agent and partner engagement, and cross-team training for all technicians to ensure continuity and career progression during this difficult resourcing time, focusing on maintaining the service levels achieved.
CASE PROCESSING: Improving delivery times and streamlining processes
As a result of the Validation clearance project, an influx of validated applications was assigned across Development Management teams for processing as cases for determination. The caseloads have been exasperated by the loss of officers, coupled with a significant resourcing issue experienced across local governments in general.
DATE Team Total Caseload Caseload per officer Decisions Issued Applications Issued in Time (or with EOT)
Jan 2022 A&E 598 71 51 49%
Jan 2022 M/M 265 53 22 25%
Jan 2022 Strategic 51 23 1 100%
Feb 2022 A&E 681 76 85 45%
Feb 2022 M/M 299 59 65 23%
Feb 2022 Strategic 51 23 0 100%
Feb 2022 A&E 681 76 99 45%
Feb 2022 M/M 299 59 26 23%
Feb 2022 Strategic 51 23 0 100%
March 2022 A&E 698 100 121 71%
March 2022 M/M 338 67 26 63%
March 2022 Strategic 56 46 – 100%
Summarising she says:
“While the service improvement is evident from the stats shown above, it is also clear that this level is by no means sustainable. With a 20% increase in incoming applications from previous years, there is currently no sign of a turning tide. 123 nationwide councils are suffering from under-resourcing. Remote working allows a wider cross-section of options for today’s job seekers thus making the staffing crisis a continued and significant challenge to Waverley and the planning services. Holes are being plugged with agency cover to a degree; however, it is important to note that this reliance has the knock-on effect of driving up hourly rates.”
her Warning shot?
Many changes have been made internally within our teams to improve processes, communication, support, and deliverables to achieve the positive trend shown above. However, the glass ceiling has, in my opinion, been reached and we will likely see a change to the detriment should we not be able to resource effectively and promptly to support our new processes and improvements.
APPEALS Latest data from 01/04/2021 through to date (22/03/2022):
Non-Major Planning Appeals allowed as a % of non-major application decisions made (Cumulative):
16 appeals allowed out 1616 non-major application decisions made – 1%
(LP152 – P3)Major Planning Appeals allowed as a % of major application decisions made (Cumulative):
6 appeals allowed out of 66 major applications decisions made – 9%
(P3) Planning Appeals allowed as a % out of ALL planning appeals determined (Cumulative):
22 appeals allowed out of 71 applications refused decisions made – 30%
Summary: The above shows an “as at today’s date” snapshot of our cumulative position in terms of appeal cases.
From the perspective of business improvement, the stats show an improving trend within the Waverley Borough Council Planning Service. That coupled with complaint emails vastly reduced, communications improved, and agents and clients complimenting officers for timely service, it is my opinion from the Business and Performance Managers perspective, there is now a clear vision of the wood amongst the trees. Notwithstanding the resource challenges and a long road ahead, there is a direction of forward motion for planning.