Staff shortages and high demand have helped put Brighton and Hove at the bottom of a league table of Sussex planning authorities – and at risk of government intervention.
Newly released figures show the city’s planning department delivered only 43% of decisions on time from October to December last year.
This followed the departure of head of planning Martin Randall in May, and the subsequent decision to refuse all non-urgent work over the summer to allow staff to catch up.
But the council says performance is now improving and more decisions are being made on time.
The Sussex league table was drawn up by planning consultants Stiles Harold Williams (SHW). Alex Bateman, its associate planner for Sussex, said: “It is difficult to communicate to clients the problems being faced by planning departments within our region, which in turn affects the deliverability of many important projects. We hope that the figures issued this week will encourage councils to address the issues to reduce these delays in decisions.”
And SHW partner and head of planning Ian Coomber said: “With local planning authorities understaffed and facing an upsurge in applications, it is more important than ever before to have your application professionally prepared, submitted and monitored – that makes it far easier for the authority to pass it in good time, and makes sure it has the maximum chance of being passed first time and as quickly as possible.”
A council spokeswoman said: “The city’s attractiveness as a place to live and invest does bring high levels of planning applications. We determine 3,500 applications a year which is more than all of our neighbours in Sussex.
“Our performance is excellent on the major applications, prior approvals and on lawful development.
“At the end of last year we experienced staff shortages and some decisions were delayed. We’ve acknowledged the delays in the service and are working to address them.
“Our performance has been improving and many more decisions are now being made on time.”
The table was based on figures supplied by the Office of National Statistics. Most authorities score very highly in meeting predetermined timescales for major, minor and ‘other’ planning developments, with Mid-Sussex processing 94% of applications within prescribed time limits, along with fellow high-performers Wealden (89%), Chichester (89%), with Hastings and Arun on 88% across these types of application.
On paper Eastbourne scores only 54% across all decision classes, but SHW said this could well be a statistical anomaly caused by a scarcity of major developments to be considered during the period.
Brighton and Hove delivered only 43% of decisions on time. If a local authority continues to perform below a 50% threshold they are at risk of government intervention and the possible removal of decision making powers.
Across the county an average 84% of planning applications were granted, just below the national figure of 86%. An overwhelming majority of major projects (81%) were green-lighted across Sussex, along with virtually the same number (82%) of house extensions, alterations and other more minor alterations.
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