Hertsmere’s planning department needs to improve in 48 areas according to a Local Government Association report.
Details have emerged of a scathing report revealing deep-rooted and systemic issues with the way that Hertsmere Borough Council runs its planning service.
The independent peer review, commissioned last year, was undertaken by the East of England Local Government Association. The full report has yet to be published, however extracts from it were noted by Hertsmere’s Operations Review Committee earlier this week.When pressed by Labour Group Leader Cllr Jeremy Newmark, Planning Portfolio Holder Cllr Harvey Cohen conceded that the full report will now be made public.
The review made nearly 50 recommendations for improvements to Hertsmere’s planning service. These include: Rushed and last minute decision making; lack of emphasis on customer care; lack of resources and skills to deliver the new Local Plan; Over reliance upon extensions to deadlines for routine planning decisions; concerns over planning enforcement priorities; failure to undertake formal staff appraisals and provide feedback to staff; and governance; concerns including number of Executive Committee members also sitting
on Planning Committee.
Commenting on the findings, Cllr Newmark said: “This report has lifted the curtain on multiple and systemic problems. In addition to the cost of the report itself, £90,000 of taxpayers money has had to be urgently allocated to implementing just one of the 48 recommendations. Who knows how much more will be needed to address the others?”
“Coming on the back of last year’s audit report on governance of Council owned assets including Elstree Studios, a picture is emerging of failed leadership; poor governance and lack of basic management processes. It’s a matter of record that opposition councillors have, for the past 18 months, consistently highlighted some of the problems identified in this report, such as the backlog of development decisions and rushed or last minute determinations. Those concerns were brushed aside. I’m worried that the problems revealed by the report – and the work required to address them – will delay the timeline set out for completion of the new Local Plan. I am grateful to the Planning Portfolio Holder Cllr Cohen for agreeing to my request that the full report be published, however today, I’m calling upon the Planning Portfolio Holder to form a special cross-party task-force, to oversee implementation of these findings.”
Hertsmere’s Planning Department has been responsible for a number of highly controversial decisions over the past two years, including approving a container homes development on Crown Road in Borehamwood, despite record levels of objections from local residents.
In what has been described as an unrelated development, it has been announced that recently appointed Head of Planning at Hertsmere, Adrian Waite, will be leaving his role next month and is likely to be replaced with an interim manager. Mr Waite has been in post for just 12 months. Labour councillors have expressed concerns that his departure will harm the Council’s ability to swiftly make the improvements recommended by the report.
The summary of the East of England LGA report presented to councillors can be found here