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Union critical of Carmarthenshire County Council’s handling of planning department’s ‘serious failings’

UNISON Carmarthenshire has issued a statement criticising the county council for its handling of the planning department and the subsequent report by Audit Wales.

The report found significant and long-standing performance issues in the planning service need to be urgently addressed to help support delivery of the Council’s ambitions.

The report states that Audit Wales  came to this conclusion because:
• the Council’s current arrangements for determining major planning applications need strengthening to help it achieve its regeneration ambitions;
• long-standing, significant performance issues in development management and planning enforcement are undermining effective service delivery; and
• the Council needs to urgently review its performance and service improvement arrangements for its planning service to better serve its

Mark Evans the branch secretary of UNISON Carmarthenshire said: “It has been well publicised that Carmarthenshire County Council planning department were going to receive a very negative audit commission report. The report is now out. It makes sober reading, and it begs the question why something wasn’t done far earlier to rectify significant and serious failings in performance.

“From April 2018 to March 2019 only 39.1% of major planning applications were carried out in the prescribed Welsh Government timelines this however was an improvement on the period between April 2013 and March 2019 when the average performance for determining major planning applications was 20.9% putting Carmarthenshire 24th out of 25 of the worst performing planning authorities in Wales.

“The council talks a lot about regeneration, but the report says that ‘this poor performance is potentially affecting the council’s ability to deliver it regeneration ambitions at pace’. The council had already put actions into place to address the serious concerns of the report. We were told the Head of Service left for personal reasons when it was clear there would be a negative report but did, they jump or were they pushed and why is it just the Head of Service that took the rap. Clearly their position would be untenable given the poor performance but why did it take so long for action to be taken when there were ‘significant and long-standing performance issues in the planning service’. Surely someone was supervising the Head of Planning what did they do? Why was there not better scrutiny from senior management and councillors?

“The audit commission report states’ However, there has been limited challenge by the council of the performance data for development management and planning enforcement. At the time of our review, work had not been undertaken internally to drill down and analyse the data and its context’. If there had been more challenge from the above, then perhaps it would not have got to this. How could a backlog of 847 planning applications and 761 planning enforcement cases be allowed to develop.

“We raised at CERF with the Acting Head of Service whether cuts had contributed to this backlog, and we were informed that there were sufficient staff although staff were being employed to help deal with the backlog in Enforcement and it was more about ways of working and that a lot of time in the past had been taken up with dealing with queries etc from councillors, contractors and the public.”

The report can be viewed here: AuditWales

Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, Cllr Emlyn Dole, said: “We regularly review and challenge services across the authority to ensure we are delivering effectively and efficiently for our communities, customers and partners.

“We have recently received a report from Audit Wales setting out a range of recommendations that will help to streamline and improve our planning service for the benefit of local people, communities and developers.

“Alongside this report, we have sought feedback from and listened to our customers to understand their needs and frustrations.

“This has brought to the fore a number of key areas where significant change will be implemented to improve the planning service. This work is already well underway, with a dedicated team working through systems and procedures to streamline the way we process applications and carry out effective enforcement whilst supporting current and future development in line with national planning policy.

“The changes include the creation of a Planning Hwb to provide developers with a single point of contact. The planning team are also working with customers to apply their perspective to the way the service is delivered going forward.

“Current planning applications and planning enforcement issues are being accelerated, and a dedicated team has been set up to focus on major projects to support the county’s economic recovery plan and aspirations.

“Planning officers are key to this work and have entered into this period of transformation and change with a commitment to improving their service delivery. They are to be commended for their willingness to review and challenge the way they work – this is not an easy process but we are confident that it will enable measurable and sustainable service improvements.”

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