Planning service: Damning report triggers action plan

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DAMNING findings from an independent review of the Planning Department have prompted a 16-point action plan from the government.

The review, published today, strongly criticises the difficulties faced by Islanders trying to engage with the planning process, with problems including a lack of customer-facing staff, inadequate provision for customer feedback and ‘dysfunctional’ IT systems.

Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf acknowledged the issues highlighted, saying he accepted the report’s recommendations in full and would publish a more detailed implementation plan outlining how improvements would be achieved.

Led by Jim Mackinnon, a former chief planner to the Scottish government, the review found that previous recommendations had been ignored.

Mr Mackinnon said the recommendation in a 2006 review about moving towards a ‘lighter-touch approach’ to development control did not seem to have resulted in a more pragmatic approach.

The review continued: ‘If anything, the processes and procedures have become ever more complex and, as a result, intimidating to an occasional user and frustrating to more frequent stakeholders.’

Other findings were that:

  • There is no comprehensive data on the performance of the planning applications team in Jersey, with deficiencies in the IT systems largely at the root of this.

  • The lack of a manned reception desk for the Planning Department is described as ‘a major surprise’ that ‘came in for strong criticism’.

  • There were difficulties in contacting planners by mobile phone. Calls either failed (the reviewers said they had direct experience of this) or inquiries went unanswered.

  • ‘The simple arithmetic of applications handled per planning officer does not suggest an overwhelming workload, but [staff] have severely dysfunctional IT systems to contend [with].’

In his action plan, Deputy Renouf – who commissioned the review in January, six months after taking office – has committed to:

  • Reintroducing a duty officer service at Customer and Local Services for customers to book appointments for pre-application advice.

  • Reporting customer feedback to managers on a quarterly basis.

  • Consulting internal teams, customers, industry stakeholders and States Members to develop a detailed implementation plan with actions, responsibilities, measures and review dates.

Deputy Renouf said: ‘I commissioned this review in January with the understanding that there is a great deal of improvement required… for a variety of reasons. There is much work to do, as expected, but it is important to note that the report also highlights significant positives.

‘The process of determining applications, the desire from within the department to support improvements, the open and transparent Planning Committee process and the ambitious and rigorous Bridging Island Plan, all contribute to reasonable decision-making.’

The minister added: ‘I’d like to reassure Islanders and staff working within Planning that a series of actions is being progressed, some with immediate effect, to deliver a real change and ensure we are delivering the best service possible.’

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