Move to speed up planning process

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BOSSES at Ashfield District Council say that improvements to its planning service are being made after criticism that the authority is taking too long to make decisions on applications.

It comes after leading councillors Gail Turner (Ind) and Jason Zadrozny (Lib Dem) warned that the regeneration of Ashfield could be hindered because applications are being processed too slowly.

Figures published in ‘Planning’, an industry journal, reveal that the district was in the bottom 25 authorities in the country for the time it took to determine major applications between April 2010 and March 2012.

The council ranked 19th with just 34.4 per cent of applications being determined on time.

Coun Turner, who also sits on Notts County Council, said: “We have to remember that not that long ago Ashfield was in the top five of planning authorities, but there has been a steady decrease in this service — so much so that we are now in the bottom 19. Given that there are hundreds of councils in the country, that’s pretty poor.

“Ashfield needs to be open for business to get the economy going. If developers are feeling it is going to take ages to get through planning, they are not going to do it.

“They are going to take their jobs and investment elsewhere. We need to be proactive about seeking out these big companies.

“I’m worried about this. I don’t want to see Ashfield District Council at the bottom of any table at all.”

Coun Zadrozny, who is also a district and county councillor, said: “Ashfield will be most let down in terms of jobs and investment. If it’s six months quicker to go over to Mansfield then it’s a no-brainer.”

A council spokesman said that improvements were being made to the service and that the current backlog is being tackled.

“The council has recently seen an increase in the number of major applications determined, whilst a backlog of large applications dating from 2004 has also been addressed,” she said.

“Recent performance figures show an improvement in all areas, particularly for major applications.

“Indeed, the service has been thanked for processing a major planning application for a large industrial unit at Castlewood within five weeks, thus providing significant job opportunities when it opens shortly.

“Ashfield is a medium-sized authority and receives relatively few major applications.

“Accordingly, any application not dealt with within the statutory 13 weeks has a significant impact on the overall figure.

“The service was realigned in April 2012 and this has placed additional focus on major planning applications. There continues to be a drive to improve process, procedures and outcomes.”

Meanwhile, Coun Turner has also questioned why the council is set to charge people for pre-application advice.

She said: “People should be able to contact us and ask for advice free of charge.”

“It doesn’t seem to be a process that is getting easier at all — it is getting more and more difficult and expensive.”

However, the council spokeswoman added: “The introduction of fees for a pre-application service will be advertised.

“This is aimed at ensuring focused discussion with applicants and providing clarity as to the information expected from developers as well as outlining early considerations of the authority.

“It is anticipated that this will also assist in improving the council’s response rate. Ashfield is currently the only Nottinghamshire authority not charging for this professional service.”