Over-stretched council planners see improvement

Ingol Golf Course, one of the appeals the council faced
Ingol Golf Course, one of the appeals the council faced
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Preston Council’s planning department is showing signs of improvement, after it was left on the brink of special measures because of a logjam of applications.

Councillors had voted to streamline the process to try to speed up decisions, after planners had left many non-major plans untouched while dealing with major applications and appeals.

The new approach means the planning committee can now focus on larger proposals, and leaders say the council has come a “long way” since the warning was issued in December.

At the latest full council meeting, Coun John Swindells, cabinet member for planning, health and regulation, thanked officers and councillors, but said: “One of the difficulties is we are playing on a field where we don’t know where the actual goal is.”

He said the current performance was “far improved” from last year, and the council agreed a budget increase of £50,000 for appeal and inquiry costs in 2016 to 2017.

The cost of recent public inquiries include £107,500 for the Ingol Golf Course inquiry, as well as £57,400 for the Eastway Hub inquiry, £61,000 for Preston Road, Grimsargh, and an estimated £99,000 for Station Road, Barton.

A report to council said the period the performance was measured over, as well as the percentage threshold, could change, but said there had been no announcements from the government. It said areas for further improvement would need to be found and said: “Despite the significant improvements that have been made, the council needs to be mindful of the likelihood that the designation regime will continue and the thresholds for both major and non-major applications will increase.”