St Albans planning chief defends delays in major applications

ALMOST a third of major planning applications that were submitted to council chiefs over the last year were not dealt with during a target time limit of 26 weeks, official statistics show.

According to new government figures St Albans district council (SADC) received 29 major planning applications over the last financial year.

But of these only 67 per cent met the government’s six-and-a-half month time frame for dealing with proposals, which they introduced to speed up the planning application process.

In response SADC said as an authority they received a higher number of major planning applications than average, and decisions could often be slowed down because of their complex nature.

The figures, which were released last week by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), also show a total of 2,638 planning applications were put forward for the council’s consideration.

Of all the planning decisions, 95 per cent were determined within the specified time period. That placed SADC just outside of a group of 278 other local authorities who decided more than 95 per cent of cases in the financial year 2011/12.

Heather Cheesbrough, head of planning at the council, said: “We received 2,638 planning applications in the year ending March 31, 2012. According to the latest figures from the DCLG, this is the highest number of planning applications received by any district council in England and is more than double the median of 915 for all district planning authorities in the country.

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“Ninety-five per cent of all our planning applications have been processed within 26 weeks. This is just under the national median of 98 per cent and our performance is on a par with surrounding district planning authorities.”

The 26-week period, known as the Planning Guarantee, was first announced by the government in March last year, and states this should factor in time taken to deal with appeals against initial planning decisions.

However, this does not replace existing statutory guidelines, which specify major planning applications should be addressed within 13 weeks, and all others should take no longer than eight weeks.

Ms Cheesbrough added: “The first few months of the period concerned relate to a time when our service was performing generally at a lower level. This will have affected the overall figures for the year.

“However, since then there have been significant improvements to the council’s planning service, including the time it takes to determine applications. We are continuing to work hard to improve our service for customers. A key target area for the future is to improve the speed of major application determinations.”