Delays in planning decisions are being disguised, says Hove councillor

Posted On 25 Nov 2016 at 12:53 pm

The big fall in planning application delays is partly the result of a loophole, according to a Hove councillor. And the loophole is hiding continuing late decisions.

Robert Nemeth said that new figures showed a 3,000 per cent increase in the number of planning applications which have been decided after the applicant agreed to give the council more time.

Councillor Nemeth said that when an extension was agreed, a planning application was not recorded as late in the official records.

He brought the figures to light after being told that Brighton and Hove City Council was dealing with almost all planning applications within the statutory time limits.

The turnaround came after the figure fell to less than 20 per cent in August last year after which a review of the Planning Department’s performance was carried out.

Councillor Robert Nemeth

Councillor Robert Nemeth

At a meeting of the council’s Economic Development and Culture Committee, he asked how many applicants had been asked – and agreed – to grant the council more time, also referred to as a time extension.

He said that figures for 2014-15 give an average of fewer than three agreed time extensions a month.

But figures for 2015-16 give an average of 85 per month – an increase of 2,990 per cent.

Councillor Nemeth said that the huge increase in the number of time extensions could be being used as a mechanism to hide continuing lengthy delays.

He said: “While I support the implementation of many of the changes that I requested for the Planning Department in my maiden speech last year, I do think that the Labour administration should be upfront about the way in which it reports on progress.

“The 3,000 per cent increase in time extensions that I have uncovered correlates with a supposed improvement in determination times.

“We now know how the improvement was achieved – not by speeding up the process but instead by disguising the delays.

“I doubt that residents or industry will be impressed with this situation.”

The council’s policy and major projects manager Andrew Ashcroft, who joined in April, told the meeting at Hove Town Hall: “From December 2015 onwards the service made far greater use of the facility, as the legislation allows for local authorities to agree an extension of time.

“The importance of this is that, as the government recognises, while there is an importance of the timeliness there is a value to certainty.”

Mr Ashcroft said that the council had used agreed time extensions to help improve performance management and to clear a backlog of planning applications.

It was, he said, something that had brought us into national best practice, adding: “That has been a component in bringing forward significant improvement in the performance of the planning service.”

  1. Valerie Paynter, saveHOVE Reply

    I’m not in a position to say that Robert is entirely wrong, but I think there are circumstances he is failing to factor into his judgment.

    It is best illustrated by way of a current planning application that remains in the pipeline beyond expected time; it is 1-3 Ellen Street, Hove. MATSIM have failed to provide a good and adequately detailed application and many of the internal consultees have highlighted those deficiencies in their formal responses. The biggest reason for delay, however, if MATSIM’s failure to include ANY affordable housing when submitting an application for 188 flats, offices and a retail outlet. THIS, in spite of them knowing full well that affordable housing is a policy requirement in this situation. In their discussions they claim they cannot afford to provide any. WIthout identifying which flats in that mix, they now say they will allow 10 rental and 9 shared ownership (but no housing association is yet involved to run them). It has therefore now resulted in resort to the District Valuer who will analyse and say what they can or cannot afford to provide.

    This is an example of a delay that is NOT the fault of the Planning Department. Developers often withold required information to try to push for decisions that leave HUGELY important issues to post consent Conditions for resolution (or fudging)after planning consent is achieved. It is a ruthless practice and Robert is wrong to fail to slap THOSE people. He has not looked deep enough.

    And as a developer himself, as well as being a councillor he needs to be very, very careful to be very, very rigorous in matters concerning the planning system.

  2. Cllr Robert Nemeth Reply

    Hi Valerie. It’s a basic before and after conparison. There used to be 2-3 extensions per month. There are now 85. It’s a change in admin practices that has caused the shift. I’m not sure why you think developer behaviour is a factor as that has presumably just stayed the same throughout.

    • Valerie Paynter, saveHOVE Reply

      Case files have for a long time now reflected changing practices. There used to be an unfolding story in them. No more. The lack of planning office staff has to be a factor in the slimming down of engagement and negotiation. Extensions benefit crap applicants and give them time to sort themselves out if they don’t want a refusal they cannot successfully appeal.

      Why are so many applications really poor? One reason I can give is that applicants fail to get pre-planning advice (or only do so after raising plans, on the eve of submission). Last year due to staff shortages the planning department had to withdraw the service. Then it was agreed at committee that a scale of charges would be levied and the pre-planning service reinstated. People don’t want to pay for it, so they take their chances and it DOES mean delays and painful loss of time for planners and applicants.

      It isn’t a black and white issue. I would be interested to know what the officers think of your complaint. How THEY explain it.

    • Valerie Paynter, saveHOVE Reply

      Developers USED to put affordable housing into their applications and USED to do so, complete with a registered social landlord on board to take/administer them. Now they don’t until they are forced to cut a deal during the determination – and it forces….EXTENSIONS!

  3. Alex Reply

    The council officers bully architects and builders into accepting delays in decisions. Implicit the threat to the project under review, and worse, other projects the architects and developers might be involved in. Bullying, intimidation, abuse of power. Every architect in this city knows about it, most have been on the receiving end of it, and they are afraid to speak out about it for fear of being marginalized and punished by an inept, corrupt planning department. Julie Cattell is well aware of it and does nothing. There should be NO delays and NO request for delays.

    • Valerie Paynter, saveHOVE Reply

      Perhaps if architects understood planning better, and complied with planning law and policies better, they would not face problems. The quality of planning applications is quite something to see (and I have looked at lots and looked at lots of case files to see how the officer is handling them).

      There was a time when case files showed a lot of to and fro as officers teased info out of the quagmire which had been witheld or which had not yet been even organised (premature applications). The pressure on them now means you are faced with an end to all that unless you want a straight refusal. Your choice.

      I do understand that architects are monkeys in the middle to some extent,given they accept and design to silly briefs from often stupidly ott, ruthlessly greedy clients/developers. They have to make a living so they comply.

  4. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    The irony is that Julie Cattell, when making Applications to the Council, bombarded the Planning Department with e-mails and telephone calls. It was a surreal situation.

  5. Bob Reply

    Developers in the city are fed up.

    The planning service is creaking.

    Being held to ransom to agree extensions of time when the planners are eventually ready to determine a planning application is no choice. It’s not good practice – it’s extortion.

    Administer the planning application in the statutory timescale rather than fudging the numbers.

    Given the tiny number of homes being delivered in the city the fact the planning department still cannot cope is a joke. Heads need to roll and genuine change needed.

  6. SamC Reply

    Val…. This is nothing to do with architects understanding. And they are not monkeys; although some nibble the odd banana. Several are quite smart, numerate, and can speak English and even been to university. This is all to do with inept, unaccountable, duplicitous planning department. This city needs 20,000 new homes in the next 12 years… NO CHANCE with this planning department. So, so, so embarrassing. Excuses have run out. Let the numbers speak. Bullying of architects and developers must stop.
    Eugenius.. Julie Cattell knows how inept the planning department is. Her bombardment was justified. The great thing about Julie when she was a planning consultant acting for developers is that she was one of the few people that would not be bullied by a Planning department that has bullying as its mantra.

    • Valerie Paynter, saveHOVE Reply

      Julie may be bigging herself up – what politician doesn’t?

      Applications are routinely submitted now that openly flout planning policy and planning law and it is the gauntlet thrown down to the planning officers. The absence of affordable housing in applications for more than 9 units in a newbuild is a case in point.

      Right now 1-3 Ellen Street and 133 Kingsway (Texaco/Alibi) are going through “negotiated” nonsense about affordable housing that the developers claimed could not be afforded. At all. None in the applications. So the council then has to involve the District Valuer to assess the truth of it and ALWAYS they can afford something. But time is taken doing all that which involves….extensions.

      How is non-compliance with planning law or planning policy by applicants all about the planning officers not doing their job, hmmm??? If I ran the planning dept. they would just get a straight refusal and told to f off and appeal it. And the LAW should require they pay for all and any outcomes from such an Appeal, plus costs. It should be automatic.

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