The performance of the council’s planners has been ‘turned around’ since it was under threat of ‘special measures’ last summer.
In June 2013 the County Times reported that Horsham District Council’s determination rate of planning applications was one of the worst in the country, raising the possibility its planning department could be placed under special measures by the Government.
Since then the authority appointed a planning improvement expert Sim Manley, and made several changes to how the department operates.
Chairman of HDC’s Business Improvement Working Group Brian O’Connell (Con, Henfield), who has been leading a review of the council’s planning function, said its performance had been ‘turned around’.
At a Scrutiny and Overview Committee meeting last Monday he said: “With proper management and leadership of the department there should not be any reason that applications are not dealt with in the appropriate timescale.”
He said the council was dealing with 80 per cent of major applications and 60 per cent of minors, but this was a two-year rolling average, and he expeected these numbers to improve.
Changes would be monitored with a possible review taking place in January or February 2015.
These included agreeing an extension with the applicant if needed at the time of validation.
George Cockman (Ind, Steyning), chairman of the Scrutiny and Overview Committee, told members it was important that all their hard work did not ‘slip from reform into old habits’.
HDC is also due to start charging developers for pre-application advice.
Diana Van Der Klugt (Con, Chantry) asked if this change would create a ‘cosy relationship between the planning officer and the applicant’.
But Mr O’Connell replied: “A lot of local authorities charge for pre-application advice. It will ease the process.”
The review into the planning department began after developer Welbeck appealed an application for 102 homes east of Manor Close in Henfield on the grounds of non-determination in 2012.
The developer then submitted a second identical application, which councillors rejected, but saw its appeal upheld by the planning inspector.