Portsmouth City Council's planning department could be taken over by the government to speed up decisions
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Communities secretary Michael Gove wrote to the council last month and said that unless improvements were made by June it would be ‘designated’, meaning planning applications could be decided by the Planning Inspectorate rather than the council.
The letter follows a similar threat made in January and says the council is delivering ‘a very poor quality service’ with less than two-thirds of applications being determined in time, below the 70 per cent target.
‘I have significant concerns about the performance of a handful of local authorities, including your council,’ Mr Gove’s letter said. ‘Performance… is far below the expected threshold.
‘That is indicative of a very poor quality service to local residents and a significant deterrent to investment in your local housing market and wider economy.’
He said there has been ‘some more encouraging recent data’ but that if this did not continue into June he would designate the council this year.
Portsmouth North MP Ms Mordaunt, who last year spoke at a meeting of the council to urge action to improve the performance of its planning department, said the latest threat was the ‘last chance to buck up’.
‘The best outcome is if the council can improve this service,’ she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service. ‘It is about individuals and businesses being about to get on with their own projects but also about the major developments to improve our city that are making slow progress, such as Tipner.’
Ryan Brent, the Conservative opposition spokesman for planning on the council, said there had been ‘a lack of investment and action’.
‘Residents have faced years of systemic failure under former Liberal Democrat leader Councillor [Gerald] Vernon-Jackson which had become stagnant and lacked innovation and investment,’ he said. ‘This will mean that local people have less control of developments within our communities.’
In April last year the council shut its planning department for two weeks in a bid to clear its backlog, and previously it paid £50,000 for a firm called Terraquest to help get through the list, but neither move made huge inroads into the outstanding applications.
A council spokesman said it was ‘disappointed’ by Mr Gove’s decision to put the council at risk of designation and meetings had already been held with officials in his department and the Planning Advisory Service.
‘While many of the problems are now historic, we have committed additional resources and are continuing to look at ways to improve,’ they said. ‘We recognise that the speed to determine “non-major” types of planning application needs to get better, and we have developed an action plan to improve performance, which will be published soon.’
They said the number of planning applications being decided in time was now above the government target.
‘The council’s planning department is performing well in other categories of application and has seen a recent Portsmouth development, at Tipner East, shortlisted for a national planning award,’ he added.