Report criticises council planning
A REPORT criticising planning in North Hertfordshire has been released. The report issued by independent watchdog, the Audit Commission, gives the District Council a star rating of just one out of three. Inspectors criticised the council's planning depart
A REPORT criticising planning in North Hertfordshire has been released. The report issued by independent watchdog, the Audit Commission, gives the District Council a star rating of just one out of three. Inspectors criticised the council's planning department on four counts: - The service has not effectively addressed key national priorities, such as speed of determining planning applications. - Local plan and much of supplementary planning guidance is dated. - Customer focus of service is variable, with weaknesses around access to information on-line and public's experience of planning committees. - Overall service does not provide good value for money. It is a relatively high cost service, giving variable levels of performance. Leader of the council, Cllr F John Smith said: "We are most concerned that this report does not accurately reflect what the users of the service want. "Our planning customer survey shows that we are in the top 25 per cent of district councils nationally for customer satisfaction, yet the audit commission seems to have placed little weight on this." The report goes on to suggest the council "sharpens its customer service focus" and determines planning applications more quickly. It also says the council should assess economical effectiveness and then "identify and implement actions to improve value for money". Portfolio holder for planning transport and environment, Cllr Richard Thake, protested that the criticisms were not valid. "Much of the report is based on data from 2003-2004 or before, yet the system the Commission work under takes no account of how we are doing now," he said. The council have hit targets set by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. These required them to process 60 per cent of major applications within 13 weeks and 65 per cent of minor applications in eight weeks. Cllr Thake said: "We agreed an action plan and have substantially exceeded these targets a year ahead of schedule, yet the audit commission still say our rate of improvement is too slow. "This seems totally absurd to me," he said.