High pressure on the district council’s planning service has led to an agreement to temporarily outsource some of its work.
In what has been called an ‘exceptional course of action’, smaller planning applications will now be assessed by firms of private consultants outside of Arun District Council.
Cabinet members approved the spending of £20,000 of planning fee income to fund the pilot project, which will see planning consultants assess smaller applications, typically the ones submitted by householders.
The example of ADC using Salford consultant Urban Vision to assess the Sir Richard Hotham Project, an £80m regeneration proposal for Bognor Regis which was recently refused by council planners, was used to show the ‘success’ of subcontracting some of the planning work.
Cllr Roger Elkins, cabinet member for housing, however raised concerns over the ability for residents to comment on individual planning applications.
Speaking at a special cabinet meeting on Monday, he said: “I would like to applaud our planning service for continuing to do a very good job despite their high workload, and I would like to think this will be only a temporary measure.”
A high number of vacancies within the planning service has seen the number of ‘live’ cases gradually rise, adding increasing pressure on remaining staff.
Employing expensive agency staff has seen the shortfall mitigated by 50 per cent at best, so while longer term solutions are explored, the new pilot will see some of the work go to outside bodies.
It is estimated that the £20,000 will pay for around 120 planning applications to be assessed. ADC would still be responsible for validation and determination during the pilot.
Cllr Ricky Bower, cabinet member for planning and infrastructure, said he supported the move. He said: “One thing I follow councillor Elkins on is the issue of delegated authority, and routes on which the public make comments on applications, and indeed members.
“There is no delegated authority going with this proposal, that is a matter that is retained by the council and the members.
“The Sir Richard Hotham Project proposals were actually assessed by Urban Vision from Salford, and actually it worked out very well indeed.
“So I’ve got no difficulty using consultants under these circumstances.”
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