Planning applications and enforcements mount up for Welwyn Hatfield Council
PUBLISHED: 07:00 31 August 2018
Hundreds of outstanding planning breaches are awaiting enforcement at Welwyn Hatfield Council, and there is a month-on-month rise in planning applications for the council to consider.
Hundreds of outstanding planning breaches are awaiting enforcement, and there is a month-on-month rise in planning applications for the council to consider.
Planning applications to the council have risen markedly in the last year, according to a council report, putting pressure on its ability to resolve cases on target.
Government targets state that 60 per cent of major applications should be decided within 13 weeks, while 70 per cent of minor cases should be decided within two years.
While the planning department has hit its targets for major applications, by June 2018 it had missed 13 per cent of its minor planning applications targets.
The most recent council report noted, however, that around 25 per cent of these targets have been achieved through a process of seeking time extensions for various reasons, which doesn’t count as a missed deadline.
This buildup of applications in addition to extensions hanging over is leading to each full time planning officer having to deal with an average of 379 applications per year.
As well as applications, there is also a backlog of hundreds of enforcement cases, where people haven’t made the appropriate application, or have been in breach of planning rules.
By July 2018, the council had 587 planning enforcement cases on its books, although the majority of these are classed as being lower-impact cases.
The team that handles enforcement is just three staff strong.
Matters are made tougher by the fact that the council is currently recruiting the team’s leader, who left the post this summer.
A new principal officer is expected to join the team this September.
At a council meeting on July 9, Cllr Malcom Cowan asked about the backlog, saying: “Does this give the right message to residents that breaches will be swiftly and effectively dealt with and discourage copycat breaches?” he asked.
Cllr Stephen Boulton, executive member for planning and delivery, accounted for some of the outstanding cases and outlined some of the ways the council plans to tackle the backlog.
These included hiring an administrative support officer, having ‘blitz’ days where officers focus solely on closing or progressing cases, as well as training sessions to help officers establish clear expectations to developers and the public.