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The development control service provided by Bracknell Forest BC is fair and prospects for improvement are promising...
The development control service provided by Bracknell Forest BC is fair and prospects for improvement are promising, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

An inspection team gave the service one star.

The development control service is responsible for planning applications relating to controlling land use. It is also responsible for the provision of planning advice to the public, administration of planning appeals and the enforcement of planning controls. The gross budget for 2001/02 is£1.056m.

Peter Wylie, regional director, Southern Region Best Value Inspection Service, said:

'Things are definitely improving in Bracknell's development control service. Customers are satisfied, the time it takes to reach a decision on planning applications is improving, staff are committed and motivated and the council is well aware of what it needs to focus on to deliver a more accessible and cost-effective service. To guarantee future success, Bracknell needs to make sure it thinks about the service in the long-term and plan accordingly.'

The inspection report highlights a number of key strengths:

- Customer satisfaction with the service is sound and the development control staff are dedicated and motivated

- Performance in some areas such as planning appeals (according to central government statistics) is encouraging, with few departures from the local plan

- Information communication technology is used to help customers and the public gain access to planning information and council decision making

However, inspectors also found weaknesses:

- The speed of determining planning applications (both householder and non-householder) does not yet meet national targets, in particular for householder applications

- There is room for improvement in the effectiveness of communication with other departments who are involved in development issues

- A lack of strategic approach is being addressed, but there must be a clearer indication to local people of how the borough will look in the future

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:

- Speed up processing of applications by developing a 'fast track' method of dealing with high-volume, smaller less risky planning applications

- Communicate and consult with customers and staff regarding corporate and service priorities

- Ensure customers have better quality information and guidance which is consistent, available on the council's website and at reception

- Develop a customer charter which sets out the responsibilities and the benefits of the service to its customers and how the customer can help the service meet their needs

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