Agenda item

Items of Urgent Business: Planning Customer Experience Questionnaire

To determine any other items of business which the Chairman decides should be considered as a matter of urgency pursuant to Section 100B(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972.


Cllr J Toye – Portfolio Holder for Planning and Enforcement introduced the item and noted that nutrient neutrality requirements had been placed on the District that would have a significant impact on development. As a result, it was reported that this would have an impact on applications beyond the month of March and would therefore potentially skew the results of any Planning customer experience survey completed after this time. The DFPCC noted that the nutrient neutrality requirements meant that the Council may not be able to issue as many decisions in the months ahead, and suggested that the March applications were therefore likely to provide a more comprehensive response from approximately 125 applications. He added that the survey could be sent to all applicants in March or the first 100 to simplify the process. It was noted that the survey form had been kept simple to encourage the maximum response, and covered a range of issues raised by the Committee including communication and customer satisfaction. The DFPCC noted that the form would be circulated electronically in April, subject to the approval of the Committee, to provide an evidence base for the service improvement plan.


Questions and Discussion


       i.          Cllr N Housden noted that there was no mention of pre-application advice within the survey and suggested that this was an important part of the service that should be covered. The DFPCC stated that this was an intentional omission as it was separate to submitting a formal planning application and therefore had different timescales and requirements, though could be included if necessary. Cllr N Housden replied that he felt pre-application advice formed the groundwork of any application, and therefore formed an important aspect of the service.


      ii.          Cllr V Holliday suggested that Parish Councils and residents comments appeared to be have been missed within the survey, and asked whether this data could be included to form a wider evidence base. She added that question F on the overall processing of planning applications was fairly vague, and suggested that a more specific question would have greater value. The DFPCC replied that Parish and Town Councils would be dealt with separately via forum meetings, whilst the survey would focus specifically on planning applicants, as pre-application advice did not necessarily have a specific outcome or timeframe, and was therefore difficult to survey. He added that discussions with Parish and Town Councils would also feed into the service improvement plan.


     iii.          The Chairman noted that the brief was focused on customer experience, and this would require some definition which in the first case would include applicants, though might also include consultees such as Parish/Town councils and residents. Cllr J Toye reiterated that Parish and Town Council feedback would be included in the process at a later point, and the survey was only the first step in data collection to provide an evidence base for the service improvement plan. He added that gaining the views of the wider public could be a challenge, but would be given careful consideration. It was suggested that officers were open to suggestions for improvement of question F.


    iv.          Cllr A Brown stated that his experience of surveys suggested the return rate would be 30-40% and asked what measures were in place to simplify this process such as a dedicated email, freepost return envelopes or other incentives. The DFPCC replied that the survey would be distributed electronically where possible, and noted that this would simplify the return and data collections process. He added that posting surveys would be possible for anyone that was unable to respond electronically, and additional incentives had not been considered.


      v.          Cllr J Rest asked whether electronic responses would be anonymous and if those submitting a return would have an option to include their name on the form. The DFPCC replied that electronic surveys would be fed back to the Council anonymously and no option to include names was a deliberate step to ensure that the process remained anonymous. He added that the survey did include an option to contact him directly, and this would be the choice of each individual.


    vi.          Cllr L Withington noted her interest in performance of the extensions process and suggested that she was unsure whether the survey questions would provide an answer to this. She added that she was aware that automatic extensions had been stopped, but it would be helpful to understand how applicants felt about extensions to their application decisions. The DFPCC replied that application extensions had to be agreed with applicants, and if not satisfied an extension would not be granted. He added that question F could be changed to determine whether applicants had been asked to extend their applications and how they felt about it. It was noted that extensions had reduced, but it remained a valuable tool for exceptionally busy periods. In response to a question from the Chairman, Cllr V Holliday suggested that this would be an improvement for question F, but suggested that it could also be useful to ask about appeals, as this could be a sign that applicants were not happy with the process. The DFPCC replied that the survey needed to remain focused on the customer experience, as the quality of decisions made had not been raised within the original scope of the review. He added that appeal decisions and the process itself were not undertaken by the Council, and it would not therefore provide feedback on Council run services.


   vii.          Cllr N Housden referred to the planning portal and asked whether this should feature on the survey given its wide use by applicants. The DFPCC replied that the planning portal was not operated by NNDC but was an external privately run service,  although NNDC did have its own Planning webpages. He added that NNDC received 60-70% of applications electronically, which was relatively low in comparison to national figures. It was noted that questions on NNDC’s planning website could be a valid question, but it would be for the Committee to agree whether this was necessary.


  viii.          Cllr S Penfold asked for clarification of who the survey would be sent to, how this had been determined, and what would be done with the data once received. The DFPCC replied that the data would help to form an evidence base for the Planning Service improvement plan, and noted that the survey would be sent to all applicants who had a decision granted in March. He added that it had been a good month for application decisions with only approximately 10% refused, and a reasonable number of appeal decisions that would provide a reliable and even response.


    ix.          An indication of the Committee’s support to launch the survey was proposed by Cllr P Fisher and seconded by Cllr A Brown, subject to consideration of suggested amendments relating to question F, Parish and Town Council involvement, pre-application advice and the public access website. 


      x.          Cllr N Housden referred to nutrient neutrality and asked whether this would come for discussion at a future meeting. The Chairman replied that it was his understanding that Planning were still in the process of determining the impact of the nutrient neutrality requirements, and once this was known an opportunity to brief Members on the situation would be provided. Cllr J Toye stated that it was important to understand the implications of the issue beyond Planning, and whilst further details were yet to be received, a briefing could be expected in the future.




1.     To support launch of Planning survey questionnaire, subject to amendment of question F to seek responses on applications with decision date extensions and arrange further surveys/information gathering to cover customer experience of Town/Parish Councils and residents, including consideration of pre-application and the Council’s planning public access website experience.