Planning Annual Performance Report:
- Meeting of Performance and Overview Scrutiny Committee, Monday, 21st November, 2022 10.00 am (Item 4.)
Scrutiny of the annual performance report prior to submission to Welsh Government.
Phil Thomas delivered the presentation and answered the members’ questions with Craig O’Connor and Mark Hand.
Repetitive reference to the 5 actions could be consolidated and made more concise and easier to read e.g. on one page. Perhaps targets could be made more realistic and achievable with regard to available resources. There might be more creative ways to achieve these actions given the resources e.g. in Action 1, rather than being concerned about the resource to implement the preservation order work data, the action could be to update now and retrospectively fill in when possible.
We note these points and agree in particular to make the report more concise in future.
Regarding 4.9.4, Wonastow Road, as an example of big developments: there is no pavement from that development to the town centre and active travel routes are still not in place – so is that development ‘completed’?
Yes, a development is considered complete once housing construction is complete. The legal agreement associated with the development has enhancements and improvements to deliver the service as well, which are done alongside. There is a pedestrian link from Wonastow Road and the Active Travel link is currently under construction.
How is the wider function then reflected in the Performance Report?
The information about Wonastow Road is a summary concerning the LDP monitoring of sites i.e. how many houses have been built on a particular development, rather than the more subtle issues around infrastructure provision. Social infrastructure often comes later than the point at which people begin living there, as the developer will need to sell some houses first in order to fund elements of a scheme. The sustainability element isn’t part of Welsh Government’s 12 ranked indicators, for the purposes of a performance report.
Is the action point on enforcement robust enough to address its current under-performance? Is there more detail to address the poor performance and perception of it amongst residents?
There are two ‘reds’ in relation to enforcement, as needing improvement. We are very aware of that. The pandemic, in particular, affected our service delivery last year, especially in that a number of colleagues with children were off for certain periods, which was difficult. We have already seen an improvement in enforcement performance to ‘fair’, and are now at full capacity, so hopefully there can be confidence that we are improving and there will be a much stronger showing in next year’s report.
The report focusses on Systems Thinking, highlighting the customer as the planning applicant – but should our primary customer not be the community?
This is a very good point. When we talk about customers in Planning, we talk about the applicant, developer, community, town councillors, local residents and neighbours (there are detailed discussions with them), county councillors, etc., so assure members that everyone who engages in Planning is treated equally, and we will continue to work that way.
Where we do see a planning breach but decide not to take further action – how transparent are the criteria, and how rigid, so that there can be no accusations of favouritism?
In these cases, a full report is taken to a panel made up of the Planning Committee Chair and 2 committee members, and a decision is made in collaboration with officers. It is documented and minuted so that there is robustness in the decision-making process.
There are no voices of residents or applicants in the report and the lessons learned don’t seem to have been fed in. How do we have confidence that the Planning function is the best it can be?
The Planning Officer Society for Wales does a piece of work involving Data Cymru in which questionnaire surveys to customers as to how the Planning service functions are reviewed. We have been involved in picking that work up again, so we can report back later on how that has gone. We also did customer questionnaires previously on the back of applications – perhaps we could reinstate those, we will take that into consideration.
Do we undertake exit interviews, in order to understand the rationale for staff moving on, and how they feel that the department functions?
Staff turnover isn’t just an issue for MCC, but across the Planning service generally. The staff who left last year went for promotions in management and leadership roles. It means there is a shortage of planning officers across the region and everyone is in competition for recruiting to their teams. We aren’t aware of negative feedback, relating to exit interviews. Some of the older staff members who thrived on team interactions decided to retire once there was a change to working away from the office during the pandemic.
The portal has improved but is highlighted as an area for further improvement – has the cost of that been considered yet?
Costings haven’t been done yet. There is expertise in the team for improving the website, so we will look to use that rather than use external providers.
Reiterating about enforcement, it is so important that it is effective and equitable.
We fully agree. Now that there is a fully resourced team, more action will be taken in a speedier manner as we can better react and monitor, as will be shown in the significant improvements already in evidence, as mentioned earlier i.e. the July/September figures.
With the proposed large housing settlements in the LDP, what engagement is planned with residents and when does it start?
A paper goes to full council on 1st December asking for Council to go out to public consultation on the preferred strategy: this will be an 8-week consultation with local communities, going to village halls in the primary settlement areas, doing virtual events with town and community councils, etc. We will try to engage and capture as many opinions as possible over that period. Once we get to the Deposit Plan stage we will also go out for full consultation, looking at the planning policy framework and the actual sites that we will go for.
What measures will prospective planning applications have to take to account for water quality and to mitigate the phosphates problem?
Since the introduction of the new water quality regulations, NRW has brought out further guidance in which developers need to evidence nutrient neutrality, that their development will not create a net increase in phosphates. Any development proposal that comes to us will need to heed to this, and we will consult with biodiversity colleagues internally as well as do a Habitats Regulations assessment on the development proposal and potentially consult NRW. In terms of our preferred strategy moving forward, we aren’t looking to allocate land for new development in the Wye catchment area because there isn’t a strategic phosphate solution at this stage. However, in the Usk catchment, there seems to be a solution coming forward for the Llanfoist Waste Water treatment system, so the Usk catchment could take another development, but nothing is defined as such in the Monmouth area at present. We also sit on the Wye Nutrient Management Board and the Usk Catchment Partnership Board, looking at solutions including land management.
How is a lack of water i.e. water supply, factored in for the larger developments?
We consult with Welsh Water and environmental colleagues on major developments but it hasn’t been a significant issue so far. We will keep an eye on it, and statutory consultees will make us aware if something does arise.
Regarding 2.13, 2.14 and 2.16: The number of young adults is decreasing, there is a higher level of 85+yr olds and rising, 40% of economically active residents out-commute, etc. How are you ensuring that we connect these points and the underlying data with services so that we can take advantage of opportunities and address the built-in challenges?
These points are all highly strategic and is where the RLDP comes in: this document will be key to ensuring that we address those issues. The paper going to council on 1st December will be vital for that; the strategy that the council is putting forward seeks to address those issues dramatically by balancing our demographic, ensuring that we have the right development in the right places, with well-connected and affordable housing-led schemes. Members need to focus on that document, ensuring that it is fit for addressing those strategic issues.
In 2.6, there is a comment about responding to ageing population with affordable housing, but is AH not directed more at the younger population?
There are policies in the development plan to secure affordable housing schemes, and a proportion of AH on the larger strategic sites. We work closely with colleagues in Housing who are fully aware of the housing need that we have. When we negotiate for schemes, it is on the basis of input from the Housing team, so the mix of AH we put together reflects that housing need, so that we can cater for younger and more mature households. There are sites where we have allowed bungalows in order to accommodate the older population or those with disabilities; ground-floor flats are appropriate for the older community too. We are trying to create balanced communities, rather than AH schemes that only cater for younger residents.
Does the report require an Integrated Impact Assessment?
There wasn’t one for this report as officers were reporting on performance, rather than a policy change. One will therefore be done for the RLDP. Nevertheless, officers will doublecheck if there is a requirement to provide an IIA for each report.
Is it possible to have Enforcement training so that Councillors understand what is and isn’t an enforcement issue?
We are happy to provide training to all members.
In terms of customer feedback: of the 21 complaints, none were deemed to be justified – what is the process for dismissing those?
Stage 1 is an internal investigation, which is quick. Many complaints are from individuals who aren’t happy with the decisions we’ve made, but the majority accepts our explanations why. Stage 2 is the next level, looked at by an independent officer in the council with whom we don’t work closely – for an impartial and independent investigation. Note, this is the whole Authority complaints process, not something bespoke to Planning.
The accessibility of documents for residents is very important. Duplication and excessive lengths could be made more succinct and key points drawn out more clearly in the future, which officers have agreed to. But there is also excellent and useful information, so thank you to officers, especially given the difficulties over the last few years. Members wished to thank officers for their support and the effectiveness of the officer-member relationship.
Perhaps there could be an automated form after an application is completed, in order to acquire customer feedback and allow for objectivity. It might be worth having a neighbouring authority’s service reviewing how our complaints are handled, to inject a level of external objectivity.
The committee agreed to move the report.
- Performance Select Committee Planning Service Annual Perfromance Report 2021 22, item 4. PDF 442 KB
- Monmouthshire Planning Service Annual Performance Report 2020 2021, item 4. PDF 1 MB