Anger over St Albans planning delays

PLANNING problems which have left some applicants waiting for many months for a decision have been slammed as unacceptable by the new portfolio holder.

Cllr Teresa Heritage told this week’s St Albans cabinet meeting that the council’s planning team wanted to deliver a better service for the public but had suffered from problems with the new online planning service and an increased number of applications.

The new electronic system was introduced last November in a bid to speed up the planning process and improve customer service by enabling the public to track applications on the council’s website.

The aim was to reduce the use of paper and help the council become more environmentally friendly but Cllr Heritage said: “Prior to the introduction of the new system, the backlog was already prevalent. The new system compounded the problem and it was realised in May that the hardware was not appropriate to run the software so the officers were not able to run the system properly.”

She went on : “I have set the head of planning the task of clearing the paper backlog up by the end of June and the whole backlog by the end of July. The poor performance has been unacceptable.”

Overtime and additional staff have now been added to the department and council leader, Cllr Julian Daly, said: “We are not afraid to put additional resources in or work overtime but we won’t allow such a backlog to build up without engaging us as to what can be done.

“I would like to apologise on behalf of the council that we haven’t been given an acceptable service.”

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The Herts Advertiser has highlighted several stories of people who have waited months for planning decisions – including the owner of a house in Redbourn Lane who was unable to complete on the sale of his house because of planning delays.

After the meeting, former planning portfolio holder, Cllr Chris Brazier, conceded that there had been problems with the new system compounded by the number of applications rocketing from 2,000 to 3,000 with the same number of staff dealing with them.

But he added: “What they tend to forget is that when we took over the council it was a failing department and we rebuilt it to such a satisfactory way of working that we were given �2.5 million by the government.”