This matter is the responsibility of Executive Councillor Mike Rigby (Planning, Transportation and Economic Development)
Report Author: Alison Blom-Cooper
Executive Councillor Mike Rigby, (Planning, Transportation and Economic Development), introduced the report and described the challenges the planning service is currently experiencing which include: Recruitment and retention of staff; phosphates and the impact of moving to the Unitary Council.
The report author, Alison Blom Cooper made a presentation to the Committee which can be accessed here.
Questions and comments from the Committee were as follows:-
· Is phosphates the sole reason for the planning backlog? It is a contributing factor, but lack of resource due to recruitment and retention of planning staff has also been an additional challenge. Some applications take a long time to process because planning officers are waiting on requested information from the applicant. The application stalls because the required information is not provided.
· Is the 5yr Housing Supply figure a target or advisory? The Secretary of State has indicated that this is to start a conversation, but guidance is needed before numbers can be reduced.
· How are phosphate credits calculated? Is this information available on the website, so that prospective applicants can refer to it?
Report to the Phosphates Planning Sub Committee - Progress on the Interim Strategy and determinatio.pdf (somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk).
A Phosphate Budget Calculator and other information is available to view on the SWT website.
· Why are different wastewater treatment works awarded different phosphate credits? This is determined by the efficiency of each water treatment plant. Better treatment plants will generate a greater amount of credits.
· What is happening with planning enforcement as the service seems to have deteriorated in recent months? Cllr Rigby explained that planning enforcement was not a statutory part of the service, and it has struggled recently due to lack of resources. He agreed however, that more should be done and hoped that this was something that the new unitary would tackle robustly. New officers have been employed who have taken a while to find their feet, but they are now working through the backlog.
· Why do applicants tend to withdraw their applications before receiving a determination? Usually this happens when it looks like the application is heading for refusal. Applicants will withdraw the application in order to go away and work on it. They will then re-submit at a later date.
· How is the 5 year land supply affected by the phosphates backlog? SWT and the Planning Inspectorate are evaluating what is deliverable, and looking at land availability. Estimates are then being made.
· Who is on the Phosphates Nutrient Group? This is made up of representatives from the 5 Councils and the nominated representative for SWT is Executive Councillor Derek Perry who has responsibility for Phosphates. His substitute is Executive Councillor Mike Rigby.
· What are windfall sites? These are small sites that come forward that were not previously listed in the Local Plan. Figures are predicted but look at historical data to make an assessment.
· Cllr Lloyd requested more information from enforcement officers, and regular updates in respect of the Listed Buildings and conservation area around Tonedale Mill, Wellington. This was her ward area and she often received queries from concerned member of the public.
· How can developers who are considering renovation of existing buildings find help in overcoming the phosphate issue, especially when there is limited opportunity for mitigation? Extensive information is available on the SWT website which should provide some assistance. If not, then please follow up with a member of the planning team.
Cllr Buller concluded the item by thanking Alison Blom Cooper for an informative presentation. It highlighted that communication was key, especially around the challenges and backlogs being experienced by the Planning team.