Poll: Babergh Council vows to cut red tape to speed up planning process

IMPROVEMENTS need to be made to the way Babergh District Council processes major planning applications, a new report has suggested.

According to the authority’s draft annual report summarising the work of its development committee from 2011/12, 60% of major planning applications were determined on time – a drop from 75% in 2008/09.

The percentage of minor residential and commercial applications cleared within the Government’s recommended eight-week period had also dropped from 68% to 59%.

Committee chairman Peter Beer said the figure in relation to major applications was “a concern”. However, he said overall, the report showed that the planning committee was doing its job properly. He said: “60% is a low figure and we have to hold our hands up and says yes, we want to do better.”

However, he added: “It is not always Babergh that is dragging its feet – it can be the applicant who causes the delay.

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“To improve matters all round, we are looking at ways to make it easier for the applicant to come in without an appointment and talk to a planning officer at the early stages, who can give advice and hopefully iron out any teething problems before an application is submitted.

“The council has been through a turbulent period in recent months but we now have the staff in place to make the necessary improvements.”

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Committee member Jack Owen said rushing any application could end up with the wrong result for the public and the council, adding: “I agree that the process should be sped up a little, but it’s sometimes beneficial not to rush bigger development applications. If you take the time, you ensure that everyone gets a better scheme at the end of the process.”

Babergh’s development manager Christine Thurlow, said the authority had met the 60% national target set for major developments, adding: “It is important to note that this target measures speed of determination only; if Table 3 of the same report is studied, it shows that 87.04% of all applications that are received are approved, which includes major decisions.

“This is an indication that significant effort is also being expended in working with applicants to avoid unnecessary refusals, so that major projects, which quite often involve significant levels of gain for the community can be successfully delivered.”

According to Ms Thurlow, the service is currently being transformed as a result of the Babergh/Mid Suffolk integration, involving elected members of both councils, and taking into account the views of stakeholders, staff and the Planning Advisory Service.

“This project will continue into the spring of 2012 and will involve a redesign of the service to ensure that it is responsive and achieves good quality outcomes whilst also meeting the needs of the community that it serves,” she said.

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