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.
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.”