Portsmouth City Council shuts its planning department for a fortnight to deal with application backlog

A TWO-WEEK shutdown of Portsmouth City Council’s planning department is being held in an attempt to clear its long-standing backlog of applications.

Despite various attempts, including paying £50,000 to specialist firm Terraquest, little progress had been made in dealing with about 300 schemes waiting for decisions.

Cabinet member for planning policy Hugh Mason said he expected the ‘planning blitz’ to clear ‘well over half’ of the backlog, by focusing the department solely on minor applications and not taking any enquiries.

It began on April 19 and runs until Tuesday.

Portsmouth City Council is imposing a plannigg application shutdown in order to clear a backlog

'For these two weeks our planning officers are doing nothing else but getting through those applications which are fairly straightforward and can be decided quickly,' Cllr Mason said. 'We have tried lots of things to try and clear the backlog, which has given rise to quite a number of complaints.

‘By reducing it, we free up planning officers’ time to carefully consider the larger applications which take a lot more deliberation and negotiation.’

The backlog was caused largely by a pause on development due to nitrate pollution in the Solent and the pandemic and has been compounded by difficulties in recruiting staff.

‘All of this means we are taking too long to make decisions on planning applications, in particular household and minor applications, with many taking beyond the statutory timescales - typically more than eight weeks,' a council spokesman said. 'We believe the best way to fix this is to devote all our staff to work on clearing the backlog for a two-week Decision Delivery Drive.

They said similar approaches taken by other councils had been successful.

‘We know this will be inconvenient for some or our customers but by doing this we are confident we can significantly reduce the number of planning applications in the system, meaning we can provide much better customer service to applicants going forward,’ they added.

At its peak in April 2021, the council had 336 applications waiting for decisions and this had only reduced slightly to 287 by the start of this year.

Last week, decisions were issued for 160 applications, compared to just 30 the week before.

Retired planning officers have also been brought back to help and this practice is set to continue.

Cllr Mason said a review of the effectiveness of the shutdown would take place over the coming weeks and said a second round could be held later in the year if it was deemed a success.