Babergh/Mid Suffolk: Move to speed up planning applications

Babergh District Council

Babergh District Council

THE power of council officers to make planning decisions is to be redefined in a bid to speed up the applications process and tackle a backlog of cases.

Peter Beer

Peter Beer - Credit: Emma Brennan

Babergh councillors will vote this week on whether to back a new joint protocol with Mid Suffolk District Council, which will make it clearer as to when an application should be referred to the authoritys’ planning committee for a decision.

Babergh’s planning department has been widely criticised in recent months for its treatment of applications, including for heritage properties - some of which have taken more than two years to be resolved. In a new report, officers recognise that the impact of allowing delays to continue could be “critical”.

According to the council’s corporate development manager, Philip Isbell, the new protocol - which is due to be discussed at a meeting tomorrow morning - proposes a single set of principles, developed through a joint member working group.

He said: “The protocol’s aim is to ensure that planning officer delegation arrangements safeguard the strategic nature of the council’s planning committees, and ensure that they focus efficiently on the most controversial of planning cases.

“Reflecting their role within their communities, council members will retain their right to request that applications are reported to planning committee.

“Currently the way planning applications are referred to planning committees have been undertaken differently at each council. This protocol should help both councils deliver sustainable development in a timely and efficient way.”

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Current planning committee chairman Peter Beer said he hoped councillors would support the document, which is one of several initiatives being employed by the councils to improve the planning service they offer.

He added: “The new protocol is about tidying up delegated powers because at the moment, certain things are going to committee when they don’t need to and this causes delays.

“It is vital for us to speed up the application process and cut red tape. So in addition, we have started to offer pre-application advice and we are actively encouraging applicants to seek this so they can find out about which surveys and information they need. This will utimately save time as sometimes we are forced to take an application to committee because a certain box hasn’t been ticked or the correct advice hasn’t been sought.” Committee members can still call for site inspections, but where a photograph will sufficiently answer a query, a site visit will not be deemed necessary.

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