In our administration budget proposals published last week, we have laid out our three budget priorities: getting the basics right, protecting the vulnerable in the city, and growing an economy that benefits everyone.
Planning has a vital role to play in delivering these priorities, which is why as an administration from day one we set out to support and develop the planning service so that it could best meet the city’s needs. Lots of claims have been made about the planning department, but the fact is that Labour knows very well how important this function is, and we have been working to modernise and improve the service as a high priority for us, staff, the residents and the city.
At the time we came into administration, the planning department was struggling with operational difficulties, including a very outdated IT system, making efficient progressing of applications really difficult. Last year I was astonished to find that staff were working on an IT system that had long outlived its usefulness. In September this year the new system went live and has begun to already streamline processes, made public access to information about planning applications more readily available, and, crucially, helping staff to better meet their performance targets. Validation and registration of applications is now down from three weeks to three days for example.
We also commissioned as soon as possible a peer review from the Local Government Association’s Planning Advisory Service, the results of which are in a report that is published on the council’s website.
The key recommendations of the peer review have been implemented and further improvements are in the pipeline.
The planning service is now more resilient and on an upward trajectory, ready to focus on our priorities – delivery of housing, new business space, regeneration projects. We have already begun to work more closely with our key stakeholders in the development industry and a new process of accessible pre-application advice for householder proposals will be introduced early in the New Year.
That is why our budget proposals for next year acknowledge the need for a resilient and modern planning service, and we will continue our focus on this core function of the council next year.
Julie Cattell is the Labour chair of Brighton and Hove City Council’s planning committee