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TEIGNBRIDGE 'SURPRISED' AND 'DISAPPOINTED' AT AUDIT COMMISSION PLANNING FINDINGS

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The planning service provided by Teignbridge DC council is a 'fair' service and has promising prospect for further ...
The planning service provided by Teignbridge DC council is a 'fair' service and has promising prospect for further improvement, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

On a scale of zero to three stars, the Audit Commission inspection team gave the service one star. The council is making good use of previously developed land, processes planning applications quickly and provides pre-application advice to applicants. However there is currently no long term vision for the district, customer focus is limited with little analysis of the quality of outcomes and the council lacks a policy framework to deliver development sustainably.

Malcolm Coe, Audit Commission senior manager, said:

'The planning service has been the target for improvement by the council. This has resulted in improved speed of planning decision-making which, in turn, has attracted a significant planning delivery grant from central government. Progress is being made to produce a local development framework to replace the existing out-of-date local plan.'

The inspectors found:

.good progress towards a local development framework

.improved performance in making planning decisions within the government's timescales

.a clear commitment to further improvement

However:

.There is not a clear understanding or awareness of customer needs

.There is no current up-to-date local plan to inform decision making

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations. These include:

.Improve the focus on the customer

.Clarify and establish the planning policy framework as soon as possible

.Sustain the current performance and improve further

The planning service encompasses development control, policy and heritage and countryside management services. The planning service has a budget of£1.06m for 2004/05. It employs 65 staff (full-time equivalent) with four vacancies at the time of the inspection. The council delivers the service directly in-house although uses external specialist services when required.

Copies of the report are available on the Audit Commission website at www.audit-commission.gov.uk

Teignbridge DC issued the following press release:

TEIGNBRIDGE PLANNING SERVICE IS IMPROVING

Teignbridge DC is extremely pleased that its improvement in

the planning service has been recognised by the recent award of nearly

£700,000 in planning delivery grant by the government. We have put a

great deal of effort and resources towards achieving and exceeding the

government's performance targets for all minor, major and other planning

applications and the grant award is the sixth highest level in England.

These significant improvements to the planning service over the past

18 months have been acknowledged by consultants to the Office of the

Deputy Prime Minister. As a result, the service has recently been

classified as 'green' which means that they are satisfied with the

progress being made in meeting the 'best value' development control

performance standards for 2004/05 and the national targets by 2006/07.

We are therefore surprised and disappointed that following an inspection

by the Audit Commission that same planning service has now been judged

as being only a 'fair, 1 star service with promising prospects for

improvement'. We are concerned with what appears to be huge

inconsistencies between the targets set by the Office of the Deputy Prime

Minister and those of the Audit Commission. Having concentrated on our

performance as required by the government and having that recognised by

the award of one of the highest grants in England we are now able to

concentrate on those areas highlighted by the Audit Commission.

Council leader Alan Connett said: 'Whilst we are disappointed with the

Audit Commission's rating of our planning service we are pleased to see

that they have acknowledged that we have already targeted key areas of the

service for improvement and are now making good progress towards the local

development framework and demonstrating significant improvement in making

planning decisions. However we feel strongly that the quality and customer

care issues that formed part of the Audit Commission's inspection have

been weighted disproportionately and this has been to our disadvantage in

skewing the overall judgment.

'We have sought clarification on the scoring mechanism but as yet we have not received a satisfactory response.'

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