MORE experienced members of staff are needed at Warrington Borough Council’s planning department following the ‘basic mistake’ over Peel Hall.
A report into the errors, seen by the Warrington Guardian this afternoon, makes three recommendations - chiefly to increase the numbers and experience of staff.
It follows the council missing a 13 week deadline during which it should have heard the application by developers Satnam to build 150 homes on the land - close to Houghton Green.
The report, by chief executive Steven Broomhead at the request of leader Clr Terry O’Neill was released to councillors today, Tuesday.
It says: “Firstly, Professor Broomhead has confirmed that the appeal essentially makes no difference to the ability for the council to make its views felt or to local residents’ views being heard.
“This planning application will be heard by the council’s development management committee in March. At that meeting it will then be up to those elected members whether they find the application acceptable or not.
“Secondly, Professor Broomhead confirms that the planning application should have been determined within the 13 week prescribed period, that it wasn’t is the result of several factors set out below:
1. The council’s development control service is mid-way through an extensive change and improvement process.
2. There are still some capacity issues in the department and an issue regarding the levels of experience in the team to deal with such important applications. This is however being addressed and a new head of development control has recently started with us.
3. The service has been dealing with some very complex and high-profile planning issues in recent weeks eg Omega and Arpley Tip.
4. Sometimes complex planning applications do take longer than 13 weeks to process and in such cases the council can agree an extension of time with the applicant. This was not done properly in this case and this may have allowed Satnam to appeal which was an administrative oversight.”
Professor Broomhead’s recommendations are as follows: “Firstly, the planning improvement board should urgently explore ways to immediately enhance the capacity and levels of experience in the development control service.
“Secondly, that the newly appointed development control manager immediately seeks to improve the service’s case management approach particularly in relation to requests for extensions of time.
“Thirdly that the new manager will work with the council’s internal audit service to review all the service’s basic administrative processes to ensure that they are robust, fit for purpose and are compliant with current regulations.
“The over-running of such major and sensitive planning applications should only be exceptional and I am concerned that such a basic administrative mistake has occurred in this case.
“The energies of the planning team should now be the on-going improvement of this valuable and important service.”
Meanwhile it is understood Mr Broomhead and Clr O'Neill have been asked for the issue to be discussed at the next council meeting on March 4.