Council to debate 'underperforming' planning service

A brick building in the evening: Uttlesford District Council's offices, known as The Council Offices, Saffron Walden, Essex

Uttlesford District Council Offices, Saffron Walden. - Credit: Will Durrant

Uttlesford's "underperforming" planning service could be overhauled after a critical external review.

The district council asked the East of England Local Government Association (EELGA) to review its planning department in 2020, saying that its service is "widely acknowledged" to be underperforming.

Councillor John Evans, who is responsible for planning at UDC, has welcomed the EELGA's findings and eight-step proposal to improve.

The report's suggestions will be debated by a committee on October 7, and presented to UDC's cabinet at a later date.

The EELGA's report notes that the performance of UDC's planning services has declined since they were last reviewed by the Planning Officers Society in 2018.


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The report's eight suggestions include more investment into an "enforcement pathway" to make sure developers fulfil their compulsory Section 106 agreements to invest in community services.

The EELGA said its most important suggestion is to "improve capabilities" in the department, saying cost-cutting has led to a decline in performance since 2018.

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It reads: "The cost cutting strategy is proven to be a false economy, not just in service performance and outcomes, but in the high cost of interims - a stark warning for any future administration set on making cuts to this service in the cause of ‘efficiencies.’

"The council’s money would have been better spent on bidding in the market to secure experienced staff."

UDC's planning department handles a large number of complex cases, including Stansted Airport's expansion plans which could now be heard in the High Court.

In May this year, a manager at vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca warned that residents are seeing the "dis-benefits" of new research parks near Cambridge.

He called for developers and councils to invest in public transport to make sure future plans benefit residents.

A sign. Straight on: Chesterford Research Park

Chesterford Research Park, which houses an AstraZeneca lab. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

UDC's Cllr John Evans said: "We all appreciate how important planning matters are to our communities so it is an absolute priority that we get this right.

"The external review was commissioned to identify where the gaps were and set out improvements so that we can provide the best possible service to our residents and other planning service users."

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