Planners hit back at zero rating

Government auditors have issued a scathing report on the performance of Waveney's planning service, giving it a zero-star rating with poor prospects for improvement.

Government auditors have issued a scathing report on the performance of Waveney's planning service, giving it a zero-star rating with poor prospects for improvement.

But senior officials and councillors hit back at the “harsh” judgement, claiming the rating was not a fair reflection and they had not been given enough credit for improvements already made.

The Audit Commission reviewed the service in June and found key targets being missed in the length of time taken to decide applications and responding to the needs of developers and objectors.

Planning chiefs at Waveney District Council said their “poor” ratings - the lowest available - were the result of tougher standards being enforced by the government watchdog.

They said that though they challenged the commission's findings, they would not be launching a formal appeal.

Edwina Child, Audit Commission senior manager, said: “Some aspects of the service are performing adequately, but the service is not meeting government expectations in making planning decisions quickly.

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“The time taken to turn around minor applications, in particular, is well below the required standard. Some improvements are slowly being made but these are not fully effective, and are not yet providing significant benefits.”

Waveney's chief executive Glen Garrod said: “The Commission has raised the bar and we have been subjected to a far sterner test than authorities have been used to.

“I believe that while the summary and the rating may give a poor impression, the actual body of the report offers a much more balanced and positive perspective.

“We had several meetings with the inspectors during their visit and on every occasion we were encouraged and reassured that the council was okay in respect to its planning service. We did not think it was poor. We were shocked and surprised by the report.

“Although I am disappointed in the harshness of the assessment result, I am pleased that the Audit Commission acknowledges that we are already implementing a programme of change in the service and that there are many things that we are doing better and doing well.”

Waveney's planning service employs 25 staff with a budget of more than £1m and dealt with 1,310 applications last year.

Council officers pointed to Lowestoft's £14.7m Sunrise redevelopment scheme and the progress of their Local Development Framework as examples of positive work by the planning department, and also noted that the Audit Commission gave them a “fair” rating for regeneration and building sustainable communities.

They also said they had been penalised for making provision for affordable housing and open spaces within smaller developments, which had delayed the decision-making.

Council leader Mark Bee said: “I would like to challenge the Audit Commission on the comments that they have made, but we will not go through an unnecessary appeal, as our energies should be put to improving the service. Improvements are being made but everything cannot happen overnight.”

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