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Planning service provided by Portsmouth City Council is good and has excellent prospects for improvment, according ...
Planning service provided by Portsmouth City Council is good and has excellent prospects for improvment, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

An inspection team gave the service two stars because it is focusing on what matters to local people including tackling deprivation and crime, allowing more affordable homes, and helping regenerate the city over the longer term.

Bill Sanderson, assistant regional director for the Southern Region, said:

'The council and its staff have demonstrated a willingness to change, to address service weaknesses such as enforcement of planning policies and to concentrate on what matters to local people.'

The inspection report highlights a number of key strengths:

- Local people are benefiting from high levels of consultation and improved customer care, such as clear guidance notes in plain English, better access to the Service's reception, and an improved council website. Service guidance can be translated into 30 different languages. Public engagement is impressive and, as a result, user satisfaction is high.

- The service is actively reducing delay in development control by using high rates of delegation, reducing administrative blockages, and using information communication technology (ICT) effectively.

- The service is assuring the quality of new development by improving enforcement, and by producing a better Development Plan that focuses on consistency, quality of development, community priorities, and delivering major development sites.

However, inspectors also found weaknesses:

- The Development Plan has not yet been adopted and the speed of determining planning applications does not meet the Service's target of 80 per cent within eight weeks. Additional guidance to customers on planning obligations is not yet completed, and planning costs are slightly above average.

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

- improving the speed of determining planning applications in accordance with new government targets

- maintaining levels of high performance in providing affordable housing, user satisfaction, and developing 'brown field' sites

- improving communication and collaboration with its internal and external stakeholders on how it works towards long term objectives for the City of Portsmouth

The Planning Service best value review (BVR) included all service functions and support - development control; planning policy; non-statutory functions (such as research); support services (such as information and communications technology); and administration. The service employs 57 staff (50.5 full time equivalent) and received 1,495 planning, listed building and tree-related applications in 2001/02. The service's gross costs were£1.6m for 2001/02, with fee income of£419,168 offsetting some of these costs. The service is provided in house, but uses some external consultancy for specialist support.

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