The newly signed SLA is in line with the Welsh Assembly Government’s agenda to ‘make the connections, drive for efficiencies and improve joint-working…’ and cements Brecon Beacons National Park Authority’s rapid improvement to its planning service. It further demonstrates the National Park Authority’s commitment to working towards the recommendations of the Wales Audit Office by working in partnership with other Local Authorities. The intention is that the SLA is mutually beneficial to both parties and it is hoped that in the longer term the County Council would reciprocate in times of high demand and workload – if it proved necessary.
As of Monday 15th February 2010, Brecon Beacons National Park Authority and Powys County Council have signed an SLA which agrees to:
• Take weekly receipt of validated planning applications from Powys County Council.
• Process the validated planning applications which include finalising all the necessary paperwork, site visits, consultation and client liaison.
• Return the applications to Powys County Council with a recommendation, however it will be up to Powys County Council Officers and Members to make the final recommendation and decision.
Chris Morgan, Director of Planning for Brecon Beacons National Park Authority said: “The speed at which we have achieved the turnaround in our planning department has been very encouraging. In fact, our performance has improved to a standard where we are now one of the best performing Planning Authorities in Wales. All the recommendations and challenges we have been tasked with by either the Wales Audit Office or the Welsh Assembly Government have been met with confidence and commitment.
“The SLA with Powys County Council is just another positive step forward in meeting those recommendations. The team of officers and staff we have in place are rapidly becoming multi-skilled in a number of planning areas which paves the way for us to work more effectively, under a real spirit of trust and teamwork. Obviously, this SLA will involve handling an increase in applications that will undoubtedly test the resolve of the planning service, but that is what it is designed to do. We want to reassure our communities and our customers that an increase or change in capacity from whatever corner, will not result in a shortfall of personal service or a compromise in service quality.
“In the past two years alone we have introduced Validation Best Practice and reduced our backlog of cases from over 200 to about 45, which may sound a lot but in reality could include applications that are only days outside the 8 or 13 week period and is actually considered normal working practice. In fact, for the last three months we have been determining 100% of all householder applications within the statutory 8 week period. This new agreement with Powys County Council is a perfect opportunity for us to strive to be at the forefront of best planning practice in Wales.”
Cllr Wynne Jones, Powys County Council’s Board Member responsible for Regeneration and Development, said: “The SLA with Brecon Beacons National Park Authority presents an opportunity for close working between the two Authorities and for making full use of capacity available in the area. This is particularly valuable in these difficult times for public service finance and at a time when resources in the Powys team in the south are fully stretched.”
Only last week Kirsty Williams AM came to see for herself the improvements that Brecon Beacons National Park Authority had made. She commented: “I welcome the undoubted progress Brecon Beacons National Park Authority has made in turning around the performance of the Planning Department. This agreement ensures that both the Council and the National Park Authority can provide local residents with the timely and responsive service that they deserve. It also has the potential to provide real value for tax payers’ money by sharing resources at what is undoubtedly a very difficult time for public finances.”
Mrs Kathryn Silk, Chairman of Planning and Access Rights of Way for Brecon Beacons National Park Authority said: “What is unfolding between Brecon Beacons National Park Authority and Powys County Council should be of interest to other Local Authorities within the Park. Not only have we improved our service to the wider communities but we are now pushing the boundaries on how we continue to achieve this – especially during times of economic downturn.”