St Albans councillor attacks planning delays

Complaints about planning decision backlog

A HUGE backlog in planning applications being processed by the district council has brought a scathing response from a councillor who claims the hike in pending decisions is an “embarrassment.”

Lib Dem Cllr Anthony Rowlands said that despite Tory promises to speed up the determination of planning applications, “it has already deteriorated under their watch.”

He added: “The backlog of undetermined applications under the new planning system has gone up from 135 to 158 in a month. These are embarrassing figures to say the least.”

Cllr Rowlands was speaking after last Tuesday’s St Albans district council’s cabinet meeting. However his comments drew an angry reply from planning portfolio holder, Cllr Teresa Heritage, who said: “The Lib Dems left us with a poorly performing planning department and a new software system that was not fit for purpose. We are having to fix it.

“We have given more resource to help the planning officers but it takes time to bed in new staff. All my planning officers are committed to the improvement of the service.”

There has recently been a big rise in planning applications, with new applications now being considered through a new electronic planning applications process.

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At the cabinet meeting Heather Cheesbrough, head of planning and building control, said the backlog was disappointing.

She said the total backlog, combining figures from the old and new application systems, were 178 in June, 200 in May, 218 in April and 196 in March.

But Mrs Cheesbrough said that resources, including the number of staff, had been boosted at the end of June, “which has made a big difference”. Staff were working overtime to get through applications.

She said applicants did not want planning requests “just determined,” they wanted them considered thoroughly.

The number of planning applications increased by 13 per cent over three months from February to April 2011. That sudden increase combined with problems with the new system changeover meant demand exceeded the capacity of officers to process applications.

The number of formal complaints from both applicants and third parties increased by 32 per cent from September to May 2011 compared to the same period in 2010.

St Albans district has one of the heftiest planning application lists in the UK