The report – independently commissioned – recognises that significant improvements have recently been made in terms of providing up to date planning policy, reducing the backlog of planning applications and in the speed of processing applications registered since October 2008. The most positive news for the Authority is that the report – while recognising that it has taken a long time for the changes to take place – suggests that if the outstanding issues are dealt with properly along with the recent improvements this should, in time, improve service delivery and restore the reputation of the Authority.
Authors of the report Geraint Norman and David Wilson stated: “Over recent months a more proactive approach to dealing with planning services has been implemented. Management changes and particularly the introduction of the local scheme for validating applications have meant that 70% of the 117 applications registered after 1st October 2008 have been determined within eight weeks – which is a significant improvement since 2005.”
Brecon Beacons National Park Authority was audited alongside Snowdonia and Pembrokeshire Coast, as part of a comprehensive planning performance assessment of the three Welsh National Park Authorities.
Highlights of the WAO’s report state that the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority is improving well in some areas including:
• The provision of an up to date Unitary Development Plan (UDP) that is keeping to the agreed timetable for the delivery of the Local Development Plan (LDP) and supplementary planning guidance.
• Recent evidence suggests that significant improvements have been made and further improvements are planned.
But the report also found room for improvement in the following areas:
• Built heritage work has been affected by limited resources and until recently ineffective management although there have been positive developments including an internal restructure, funding allocation, a ‘Member Champion’ for heritage work and a reduction in the number of listed buildings ‘at risk’.
• Although the speed of determining planning applications has not improved since 2005 and does not compare well with the rest of Wales, recent evidence has demonstrated a significant improvement since October 2008.
Amongst the recommendations was the need for the Authority to give high priority to reducing the backlog of planning cases, to proactively manage risks to achieve its targets, complete a best practice review and approve contingency arrangements that will meet future gaps in capacity or any increase in work load.
John Cook, Chief Executive of the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority said: “We have long recognised the extent of the changes we needed to make to our planning service. The criticisms raised in this report are issues we are already addressing and we feel confident that next year’s figures will show how seriously we take this review. It is appropriate for the WAO to highlight the poor standards which were being achieved; however, we are pleased that they have recognised the improvements that have taken place. Our commitment to improve is strong and hopefully our service users will see a vast improvement in our weak areas over the coming months.
“It’s without question that under the new management and procedures we have in place, transparency will be key. Over the next twelve months this Authority plans to meet the recommendations that the WAO has set for us.”
Cllr Kathryn Silk, Chair of the Planning Access and Rights of Way (PAROW) committee said: “Overall the report is very clear about the improvements we need to make as a Planning Authority but has clearly highlighted the steps forward we have already made. I am pleased that there have been positive findings on the way the PAROW Committee is now being chaired and that it recognises that our Members also have a better understanding of their role and that of Officers, which enables them to be more proactive in challenging, in a positive way, the management of services.”