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Agenda item

Planning Review Update Report


The Director of Regeneration and Place updated the Committee on the findings of the Planning Review, which begun in February 2017 and concluded in June 2017.


It was highlighted to the Committee that:


·  The Council had commissioned iESE to undertake a review of the planning service and they undertook the following:


o  Shadowing of some planning staff

o  Interviews with all planning staff

o  Interviews with local authority stakeholders, such as Kent County Council and Swale Borough Council

o  Interviews with developers and service users

o  Member workshop

o  Parish Councillor interviews


·  iESE presented their findings to the Corporate Leadership Team (CLT) on 9 May 2017 and following that to the Chairmen of this Committee and Planning Committee on 19 June 2017 and the Vice-Chairmen of these committees on 22 June 2017. Planning staff were then presented the findings and recommendations from iESE’s draft report on 5 July 2017.


·  iESE had suggested improvements could be made to three key areas: staffing structures, systems and processes, and culture and behaviour.


·  Based on the evidence from iESE, especially the feedback from housebuilders and developers, there was a need to separate the high value/low volume work from that of the low value/high volume work. This would give more expert and experienced staffing resource to the former to effectively focus upon the delivery of the Maidstone Borough Local Plan. A new team structure was fully implemented in Development Management in the week commencing 16 October 2017.


·  iESE were clear that the staffing resource within the planning department was adequate for the work. However, productivity was lower than it should have been because of weak systems and processes in the main areas of Development Management, which resulted in higher than necessary levels of failure demand and associated levels of dissatisfaction from customers and staff alike.


·  A specialist change management consultant was commissioned to help design and imbed the proposed improvements for a three month period, which commenced on 2 October 2017.


The Director of Regeneration and Place informed the Committee of the positive progress that had already been made since the review was completed.


Councillor Round addressed the Committee on this item.


The Committee were concerned that:


·  The Planning Committee met far too regularly;


·  Planning Committee agendas had too many items which often meant that the meeting had to be adjourned;


·  The backlog of planning applications would not be cleared by the end of March 2018;


·  12 out of the 27 staff who were interviewed were either unlikely to recommend or would not recommend the Council as a place to work;


·  There would not be enough detail contained in a 10 page planning report for the Planning Committee to make a considered decision;


·  There was huge pressure on staff in the Planning Service which could have an impact on their work; and that


·  Technology needed to be improved within the Planning Service to reduce the amount of unnecessary enquiries.


In response to questions from the Committee, the Director of Regeneration and Place advised that:


·  The reference to both authorities in the recommendation on page 63 of the agenda was because Mid Kent Planning Support was a Shared Service.


·  The recommendation on page 74 of the agenda could be reworded to be more specific and to strengthen it.


·  The staff structure on page 78 of the agenda was what had been implemented. The dotted line between the Director of Regeneration and Place and the Development Manager in the staff structure was to signify that the Director was taking a keen interest in the processing of applications within Development Management to give the Head of Planning and Development more time to work on major developments. The dotted line was temporary until the end of the calendar year.


·  The iESE report gave an independent 360 degree view of the Planning Service and not all of the recommendations contained in that report would be progressed.


·  The strains on the staffing resource were present throughout the Council and not just in the Planning Service.


·  The Head of Environment and Public Realm was to employ a Public Open Space & Recreation Delivery Officer to manage the delivery of Section 106 contributions in Parks and Open Spaces. The Director of Regeneration and Place agreed to circulate details of the position to the Committee by email following the meeting.


The Committee assessed each recommendation in the iESE report individually. The amended recommendations were:


Process Mapping and Activity Analysis


·  Ensure that the website redesign meets the needs of all users and is easily accessible and intuitive, allowing customers to find information easily and perform most tasks online.


·  Ensure that existing and future IT systems and projects are aligned to the needs of all users to maximise efficiencies and reduce duplication, with a focus on paperless and digitalisation as part of any improvements or redesign. (It was noted that the Committee were concerned about this recommendation. Members did not want this to mean that Parish Councils would have paper copies of plans removed.)


Stakeholders and Customers


·  Establish and implement relevant engagement and communication strategy with clarity around roles and responsibilities.


·  Develop a more flexible approach within the Planning Support Service that does not require processes across both authorities in the Shared Service to be aligned to take on a wider range of support and administrative tasks currently being undertaken within Planning i.e. pre-application recording and validating.


·  In association with KALC co-design and implement a programme of regular Parish forums to further improve Parish understanding of the planning process and enable parishes to highlight specific issues and problems for discussion. (It was noted that the Committee were content that this already occurred.)


·  Review the pre-application service to ensure that it is offering a consistent service and meeting customer needs, and that relevant internal stakeholders including Ward Members are engaged in the process at the appropriate point.


Staff and Managers


·  The current backlog of cases from 2015 and 2016 should be reviewed and a temporary agency planner brought in to progress these to determination in a specific time period if appropriate. It is vital that the agency planner concentrates on removing the backlog and is not allocated new cases. (It was noted that the Committee were concerned that a temporary agency planner would not have the local knowledge to determine applications suitably).


Measures and Finance


·  Develop and establish a Business Enabling Hub to support commercial activity. (It was noted that this recommendation had already been discounted by the Director of Regeneration and Place).


Culture and Behaviours


·  Revalidate relevance of current behaviour framework and ensure behaviours are used to manage performance and recruitment. Explore opportunities for a Mentoring programme and a Culture & Leadership programme. (The Committee requested that this recommendation be reworded.)


The Committee requested to have Member involvement to scope the recommendations in the Members and Committee section of the iESE report. Therefore, the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of this Committee and the Planning Committee would meet with officers to discuss the recommendations. It was noted that Councillor Munford would assist on this and the Committee were content that he do so.


It was noted that officers would bring back a report to this Committee at the earliest opportunity after the scoping had taken place. This report would include the direction that the Director of Regeneration and Place wanted the planning service to take and the recommendations that he wished to take forward.




1.  That the report be noted.


2.  That the recommendations as amended be approved, with the exception of the recommendations included in the Members and Committee section where the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of this Committee and of the Planning Committee, with the addition of Councillor Munford, meet with Officers to scope the recommendations.


3.  That the Planning Review phase is now considered to be complete.


4.  That Officers report back to this Committee the delivery of the actions agreed at the earliest opportunity.


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