Agenda item

Planning Performance & Customer Experience Review








Options considered:

This report discusses matters of planning performance and customer experience and sets out the context, an overview of identified issues and a proposed way forward in addressing any perceived issues relating to performance.



Options considered within this report are as follows:

  1. Do nothing – the Council accepts there are no issues of performance that need to be addressed.
  2. Request that the Director for Place and Climate Change undertakes a Planning Service Improvement Plan.




It is recommended that Overview & Scrutiny Committee supports the production of a Planning Service Improvement Plan (PSIP) for referral to the O&S Committee meeting on 14th September 2022.










Reasons for



The Overview and Scrutiny Committee are asked to consider the matters raised within this report and to support the production of a draft Planning Service Improvement Plan for subsequent review by Overview and Scrutiny Committee in September 2022.



To ensure that an appropriate plan is in place setting out expectations and solutions to identified planning performance issues and so that the objectives of the Council are achieved.



(Papers relied on to write the report, which do not contain exempt information and which are not published elsewhere)








Cabinet Member(s)

Cllr J Toye, Cabinet Portfolio holder for Planning

Ward(s) affected: All

Contact Officer, telephone number and email: Martyn Fulcher, 01236 516244,






Cllr J Toye Portfolio Holder for Planning and Enforcement introduced the item and informed Members that whilst placed on the Committee’s work programme last year, the report had been delayed for the reasons outlined within the report. He added that in addition to planning performance, the report covered a number of issues raised during a preliminary discussion relating to customer experience. Cllr J Toye stated that at present there was no quantifiable data on these issues, and it was therefore difficult to quantify the scale of issues, if any. He added that complaints had spiked at thirteen per month in September 2021, however the annual average was only three per month, with zero received in the last two months. It was noted that these figures should be considered against the context of approximately 250 planning decisions made each month. Cllr J Toye noted that at this stage issues would be reported as perceived until evidence could be gathered to confirm or refute the claims. He added that previous concerns had been raised around the enforcement process, however data and additional training had improved the perception of this service, and it was hoped the same could be achieved for Planning. It was noted that comments made regarding the prioritisation of commercial applications could not be pursued, as all applicants had to be treated equally.


Questions and Discussion


       i.          The Chairman referred to the recommendation in point 12.2 and asked whether the Portfolio holder was supportive of the recommended actions. Cllr J Toye replied that the recommendation assumed that there were issues that required action, though evidence and data must first be gathered to confirm the need for any remedial action. He added that he was happy for the recommendation to commence an investigation, and welcomed scrutiny with an evidence-based approach.


      ii.          The DFPCC stated that it was important to note that the last two years had been challenging for the Planning Service, with no let-up in demand and an increase in workload over the past year. He accepted that some elements of the service may not always have performed as required, but this had to be taken in the context of the difficulties presented by new ways of working during the Pandemic. It was noted that the Service would always strive for perfection, and on this basis a service improvement plan was good practice to ensure that any perceived or actual issues could be resolved. The DFPCC suggested that if approved, the improvement plan could come back to the Committee in September for consideration, prior to implementation.


     iii.          The Chairman noted that the review was particularly relevant to the customer focus theme of the Corporate Plan, and on this basis it was sensible to proceed with the review using an evidence-based approach.


    iv.          Cllr V Holliday asked whether it was possible to survey residents or Parishes on the service provided by the Planning Department and suggested this could generate useful feedback. She added that she had previously undertaken her own survey on the Service as a Parish Councillor and agreed to share the data with officers. The DFPCC agreed that it would be helpful to do a satisfaction survey and noted that the existing data would be helpful to review. The Chairman asked whether it would be possible to undertake an objective survey on a randomised basis to avoid skewed results. The DFPCC replied that this would be possible with surveys issued alongside random decision notices, though he would also seek advice and follow best practice on the content of the survey.


      v.          Cllr H Blathwayt asked whether officers were satisfied with staff retention and recruitment in the Planning Service, and if not, why not. The DFPCC replied that he was content as he could be, and noted that generally speaking NNDC were very good at recruiting new staff quickly as and when required, which had not been the case elsewhere. He added that despite this, there was still a national shortage of planning officers, especially chartered town planners, and NNDC was not immune to this, hence emphasis had been placed on recruiting more trainee planning officers and offering in-house training.


    vi.          Cllr N Lloyd suggested that caution should be exercised when undertaking surveys, as residents with refused planning applications would seek to raise issues in response to their refusal.


   vii.          Cllr A Brown stated that he was supportive of undertaking a customer survey and review, and was happy to propose the recommendation if required, taking into account that the Service had remained live despite the Pandemic, whilst other authorities had faltered.


  viii.          The Chairman suggested that it could be worthwhile pursuing an independent survey, as this would ensure that results were reliable. The DFPCC agreed and stated that he would review best practice, then noted that a significant number of individuals interacting with the Planning Service were agents acting on behalf of residents, and these would be an important group to survey.


    ix.          Cllr A Brown suggested that it might be helpful for the Committee to review any potential survey prior to sharing it with customers. The Chairman agreed and suggested that officers could proceed in principle and commence a survey once reviewed by the Committee.


      x.          Cllr S Penfold suggested that despite the need for the survey to be objective, he did not wish to see unnecessary spending on consultants, as he expected that NNDC officers would be capable of producing a high quality survey.


    xi.          It was proposed by Cllr A Brown and seconded by Cllr P Heinrich that in addition to supporting the officers recommendation, a draft independent customer satisfaction survey be prepared and shared with the Committee prior to release on a randomised basis, to form an evidence base for the Improvement Plan.




1.     To support the production of a draft Planning Service Improvement Plan for subsequent review by Overview & Scrutiny Committee in September 2022.


2.     To request that a draft independent customer satisfaction survey be shared with the Committee prior to release on a randomised basis, with results used to form an evidence base for the Planning Service Improvement Plan.




Supporting documents: