‘Poor’ planning performance at Norwich City Council blasted

Families hoping to get planning permission for schemes such as extensions and conservatories are facing lengthy delays because of a staffing shortage at City Hall.

Norwich City Council has conceded that there is a 'poor level' of performance in its planning department and both major and minor applications are facing hold-ups.

With a queue of more than 200 planning applications yet to be dealt with, the Liberal Democrats have blasted the delays as 'unacceptable'.

But Labour, who control City Hall, said they are planning to recruit more experts to cope with the demand.

The poor performance came to light in an internal report which was recently presented to members of the city council's planning committee.

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The report, focusing on the last quarter of 2010/11, showed the number of major applications processed within 13 weeks had dropped from 89pc in the previous three months to just 44pc - well below the government's minimum target of 60pc and the local target of 80pc.

The percentage of minor applications dealt with within eight weeks dropped from 88pc to just under 52pc, below the national 65pc target and the 85pc local target.

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The report saidL 'This was linked to reduced staffing levels due to maternity leave of a planner and a resignation of a technical officer.

'This poor level is expected to continue for some time until staffing levels can be increased in the development management service or workload drops.'

But Judith Lubbock, Liberal Democrat city councillor for Eaton, who sits on the planning committee, said: 'This state of affairs is unacceptable – the staffing issues were not unexpected as it was partly due to maternity leave and I am surprised that sufficient cover has not been provided.

'The robustness of council services can not be dependent on the natural turnover of junior members of staff within that service.

'It is beyond belief that one junior member of staff leaving and another going on leave can lead to a complete collapse in performance.

''The council are acknowledging that individuals and companies putting in planning applications are getting a 'poor' service and I think this is unacceptable.'

But Bert Bremner, Labour's cabinet member for planning and transportation, said the situation would soon improve. he said: 'The whole point of this report going to committee was to clear the way for putting extra resources into planning to meet increased demand.

'In the last few months we moved quickly to release sites across the city to build 108 affordable homes which is good news – surely the Lib Dems are pleased with that?

'Demand for applications in general has gone up which is more good news in general, and for the building trade in particular but that means increased work.

'We recruit technical expertise when we need it, which is precisely what we are about to do.'

• Do you have a story about a local council? Call Evening News reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk

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