Threat of Portsmouth City Council being stripped of its planning powers by the government is over thanks to ‘Herculean’ effort by staff

Councillor Lee Hunt. Picture: Sarah StandingCouncillor Lee Hunt. Picture: Sarah Standing
Councillor Lee Hunt. Picture: Sarah Standing
The threat of Portsmouth City Council being stripped of its planning powers by the government has 'disappeared off into the sunset,' according to its leader.

Members of the council's cabinet were told that a 'Herculean effort' had been made to avoid the designation threatened by communities secretary Michael Gove in April.

Planning officers, despite having a number of vacancies in the department due to ongoing recruitment difficulties, have been working voluntarily during weekends in a bid to increase the speed of decisions on applications.

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Councillor Lee Hunt, the cabinet member for planning policy, accused the government of a 'witch hunt' over warnings it issued because the council missed the target for minor applications.

'It's really important to remember that the planning service here in this city is something like 40 per cent down on staff numbers,' he said. 'Despite these problems, they continue to deliver a very professional service for us.

'Planning officers come in on the weekends - voluntarily - to decide planning applications faster and so that threat of designation that was hanging over us is being addressed.'

He said the council, which had only decided 63 per cent of these applications in time, was now hitting this target in more than 90 per cent of cases - well above the 70 per cent threshold set by the government.

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His comments were made during a discussion the timetable for the council's much-delayed new Local Plan, a draft of which is now expected to be ready in 'the winter'.

The council's leader, councillor Steve Pitt, praised the work of the planning department and said cross-party work was well underway to draw up policies for the new planning document.

'We are extremely grateful for the Herculean effort that has gone into making sure that that the risk designation has disappeared off into the sunset,' he said.

'Although I have to say I thought it was kind of cheeky in the first place; with that threat removed, progress towards the local plan will continue.'