Barnet's planning service celebrated by Lords

 

Barnet LBC's planning service joint venture, which offers pre-application advice, a premium-rate fast tracking application process and private planning consultancy, has drawn admiration from Lords.

Members of the House of Lords National Policy for the Built Environment Select Committee celebrated the London borough's service, which is provided with business outsourcing specialist Capita.

Asked by the chair, Baroness O'Cathain, if he hoped to 'flog the idea elsewhere', witness Joe Henry, the borough's service director for development management and building control, said that he is currently looking at ways of encouraging other local authorities to buy in.

'But the concept can be difficult to sell, given political pressures to keep the service in-house,' he added.

Annelise Hutchinson, service director, development and public protection with Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council, said the borough had considered outsourcing, but this would have to cover a wider range of services than just planning, and there could still be issues over flexibility.

The in-house option was likely to remain preferable for smaller authorities.

Barnet has, however, already given support on one local development process to Dover District Council, which was happy with the London Borough's skill sets. Its model, Mr Henry said, is unique, though approximations are operating in North Tyneside and Salford.

The Capita contract, which is on a profit-sharing basis, is for 10 years, and Mr Henry expects its costs to reduce through growing the business and increasing its revenues.

The borough has achieved a high level of delegation, with planning officers deciding 96% of applications received, as compared with 85% four years ago.

To augment its skills, it also grows its own planners, taking in new recruits from other sectors and sending them on day-release to gain relevant degrees, subject to golden handcuffs restrictions. 'We want developers to be attracted to Barnet', Mr Henry said.

Asked about liaison with residents on planning issues, Ms Hutchinson said the council had tried using Facebook, but this had not proved very successful. It was more effective to take opportunities offered by local history and similar societies meeting in a local pub.

 
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