If the Labour administration were to be believed, everything is now rosy in Brighton & Hove City Council’s planning department.
The latest press releases suggest that 100 per cent of applications are being dealt with in time, which is considerably up from the abysmal 20 per cent figure that made the headlines a year ago.
Our city, that should be a beacon for quality design, had been shamed as having one of the worst planning systems in the country.
The official figures really do tell us that all is fixed. Public and professionals know that it isn’t though. So how are the problems being hidden?
In my role as Opposition Spokesman for Economic Development & Culture, I started delving.
The reality of the situation is that a chilling loophole is being exploited which sees the council asking developers for a time extension. Where this is agreed, an application is no longer recorded as late, even if the application goes on for months, if not years.
When Labour came into administration, there were two or three applications with time extensions each month. There are now up to 180 each month. The average figure across the past year represents an increase of some 3,000 per cent! This is scandalous.
Householders or developers who agree to the time extension don’t win. Their application is late when they could be getting to work improving their lives and our city. The few who don’t agree to the extension lose out most. Once their application is recorded as late, there is no longer an incentive for the council to work quickly. These applications see huge delays.
Other tricks are being employed to hide the reality of the situation. It is now taking longer to validate applications and sign off conditions. Alongside all of this, there are also attempts being made to reduce the role of the public and their elected councillors in the process. It is to become harder to take an application to the democratic planning committee. Public notices are not being sent out or displayed properly.
There are so many consequences to this shambles. Our historic buildings are crumbling. Our tourist offering is suffering. Our housing stock is creaking. Our qualified planning officers need to be released from their shackles to work their magic and improve the city around us – which is exactly what they wanted to do when they started their training.
After getting elected last year, I delivered my maiden speech at full council on this very subject in the hope that rapid change would ensue. I’m still pulling my hair out.
Robert Nemeth is a Conservative councillor for Brighton and Hove