Planners refuse to take calls to deal with summer backlog

Posted On 23 Jul 2018 at 5:02 pm

Phone lines to the city’s planning department have been cut for three months to give officers enough time to answer emails in less than a week.

Brighton and Hove City Council says the move is being made because of an increase in application caseloads.

But planning consultants say that the move will lead to a “summer of indecision and chaos” – and could slow down much-needed development.

Alex Bateman of Stiles Harold Williams says he and other planning professionals were only given one working day’s notice of the changes. He has now written to Liz Hobden, the head of the council’s planning team, to request the phones be answered in a daily two-hour window as before.

Mr Bateman said: “Brighton and Hove claim there has been a ‘spike’ in applications, yet we have conducted comparative research vis-a-vis Mid-Sussex District Council’s case load and B&H have slightly fewer applications to review.

“We are trying to act in the best interest of our clients, but the council is making it very difficult for legitimate cases for positive change to occur, thus stifling the economic development of the city we try so hard to champion.

“I would implore Liz Hobden to reinstate the phone lines as soon as possible for the benefit of all concerned.”

A statement posted on the council’s website last Monday said: “The planning service has experienced an increase in planning application caseloads. We are taking a number of immediate actions to address this to reduce the number of live planning applications and officer caseloads.

“One of these actions is to temporarily suspend telephone access to case officers for three months from Monday, 16 July 2018 to 15 October 2018.

“This is an interim measure to allow case officers to focus on ensuring the other two customer service standards are met (responding to emails within five working days and providing a proactive update on planning applications) and to improve timings on planning decisions.”

Councillor Robert Nemeth, who has asked many questions about the planning department’s performance, said: “My maiden speech in 2015 was on the Labour Administration’s failure to get a grip on the planning system.

“Three years on and we find that there has been an exodus of staff. The backlogs have grown rather shrunk.

“Planning enforcement has a 600-case queue. With fees due to go up, it’s outrageous that service levels will be going down.”

There are currently 1,100 applications lodged with the city council but yet to be decided – this includes applications which have yet to be registered and those which are still under consultation.

Of these, 39 applications were received more than eight weeks ago – a far smaller number than the 550 which the department was struggling with in August 2015 following the departure of planning chief Martin Randall and other members of staff. At that point, just 20% of applications were decided within statutory time limits.

The department then refused all non-urgent work and put other measures into place to combat the backlog.

A year later, the department said it was deciding nearly all planning applications on time – although it achieved this partly by agreeing delays to deadlines with developers on hundreds of applications.

  1. marcus Reply

    its taken 4 months to get my extension and conservatory signed off – not good enough

  2. Tailor Reply

    Took 9 months to get planning permission for an out building.

    Only got planning when I agreed to extend the delayed decision for a second time. This I did not want to do as B & H planning department had already take 9 months in total and it had been 4 months with out a decision since I first granted an agreed extension. Was told by B&H planing department that if I did not agree to an extension of time my aplication would be buried and I would not get a decision any time soon!

    The delays, poor costly advice & blackmail – not good enough.

  3. Dan Reply

    I have an application that is currently running 4 weeks late, it’s not compliecate it’s a single storey rear extension. The thing that annoys me the most is that over 50% of the cases being decided in the last 4 weeks, were all submitted several weeks after mine, the planning department are clearly trying to keep their approval numbers high and not working on a first come, first served basis.

    The fact that we have to pay for this service is appalling!!

    My case officer does not know when they can look at my application as they are working in fortnightly cycles of work, not sure how they are deciding which applications to focus on.

    We were hoping to start the project this summer, that’s looking very unlikely now.

  4. Pomona Reply

    Meanwhile there’s an application to turn a house on my road into an HMO and they are in there pulling the place apart before the application has been approved. But that’s fine apparently.

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