Agenda item

Planning Service Review - Progress Report

This report outlines the progression made following an external review of the Planning Service commissioned by South Kesteven District Council.



The Cabinet Member for Planning and Planning Policy introduced a report which provided an overview of a review of the Council’s Planning Service undertaken by a public sector advisory company called Cratus. Cratus had conducted a total of 26 interviews with staff, Members and key external stakeholders. In addition, written representations were received to supplement the process.


A copy of the final report developed by Cratus on the outcomes of the Planning Service review was appended to the report, which contained 29 recommendations and recognised the importance of planning as a critical component in supporting economic growth and unlocking future prosperity of local communities. The recommendations focussed upon several areas, which included:


·         embedding good practice in the operational (officer) delivery of the service;

·         identifying areas where change to the protocols and functioning of the Planning Committee were likely to be beneficial;

·         highlighting opportunities to invest in technology and communication to help improve the service.


An internal project team had been deployed to engage with the Planning Service, Members and Cratus to develop an Action Plan, as appended to the report, to scope out and begin progressing the implementation of the recommendations contained with the final report.


The Cabinet Member highlighted that some of the recommendations, particularly in relation to protocols associated with the Planning Committee and potential changes to its scheme of delegation, would require constitutional amendments. In view of this, it would be necessary for the Constitution Committee to consider these implications prior to a final decision by Full Council on any constitutional changes as a result of the review.


A question was raised as to whether the final report would be presented to the Council’s Planning Committee. It was noted that Members of the Planning Committee would have an opportunity to consider the final report, but only in the capacity as a consultee, with the Constitution Committee being the appropriate body to formally consider the constitutional implications and make any recommendations to Full Council.


The following points were made during debate:


·         this meeting of the Governance and Audit Committee had been the first opportunity for elected Members to consider the content of the final report of this review at a public meeting of the Authority, although it was made publicly available in November 2020;

·         there had been limited opportunities for Members to consider the outcomes of the report, whether formally or informally. Two informal workshops held this week had been the first real engagement with all members since receipt of the final report;

·         the recommendations contained within the final report impacted the ability of local Members to be involved in the planning process;

·         currently, any Member had the ability to ‘call in’ an application for consideration at the Planning Committee if they had a valid planning reason to do so. It was important that this function remained in place.


In response to comments raised, the Assistant Chief Executive confirmed that all elected Members had been invited to a briefing in October 2020 upon receipt of the final report from Cratus and that notes from that meeting could be shared. There had been a series of informal engagement sessions with the Planning Committee and other Members, as outlined in the report.


A member questioned how the impartiality of Cratus had been assessed. It was reported that Cratus had been chosen due to the significant expertise within the team that led the review, which included experience of local authority planning that could add real value as an independent and external review of the Council’s processes. In response, a Member having undertaken their own research highlighted that Cratus, as part of its business, offered advice to developers on how to approach Planning Authorities as part of their proposals and applications. It was queried, therefore, whether Cratus had a conflict of interest. The Assistant Chief Executive reiterated the local government experience that existed within the team Cratus had put in place to conduct the review, which he stated had been conducted impartially. It was also outlined that the team conducting the review included the former Chief Planner for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, who had offered a significant amount of input during each phase of the review.


A further question was asked which sought to confirm how recommendations contained within the final report, some of which had already been actioned, could be actioned without any approval from a body of the Council. It was noted that most actions within the operational section of the final report reflected improvements which could be made within the delegated authority that officers already had in accordance with the current scheme of delegation.


A question was raised as to how the Council monitored consultation with the Planning Committee. Officers would ensure that the outcomes of any such consultation would be shared with Members of this Committee and that the wider team would provide update reports as frequently and in whatever format as the Committee required.


Clarification was sought as to why the processes and protocols section had been excluded from consideration at this meeting. It was noted that the appropriate body for considering those elements of the review was the Constitution Committee.


A member questioned how this Committee would be advised of changes made prior to consideration of the final report by the Constitution Committee. Officers committed to ensure that reports continued to be circulated to Members of this Committee in order that the Committee was kept up to date on progress made.


A member asked what assurance could be given that the Council had received value for money from this review and the final report, querying the quality of the document and its outcomes, stating that the recommendations should show more consideration to benefitting residents.


During further discussion on the content of the final report, the following comments were raised:


·         the tone and wording used in the final report was patronising and inappropriate and there were elements of the commentary and recommendations which evidenced a lack of understanding of the Council’s Constitution;

·         the quality of the final report was questionable;

·         recommendations 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16 and 20, if implemented, would require a complete re-write of the Council’s Constitution and at no stage of the review had the Constitution Committee been engaged;

·         recommended changes to the current ‘call in’ process were concerning, particularly when taking into consideration that Grantham did not have a Town Council;

·         public consultation should be undertaken to seek the views of residents on the recommendations being proposed.




That the Governance and Audit Committee, in noting the receipt of the Planning Service review and work progressed to date:


(1)          Notes the Action Plan.


(2)          Notes the planned engagement with Members ahead of any formal reports to relevant Committees.


(3)          Receives an update report in three months.

Supporting documents: