West Lindsey District Council has been told to speed up its response times to planning applications.
The authority commissioned a team to do a ‘peer challenge’ to investigate what was good about its planning service and get ideas for how it could improve.
WLDC was praised for its strong leadership and ambitions for the district - but was advised to speed up its response times to applications for development and customer enquiries.
The review also said the council was “struggling” due to staff shortages and an increase in major and complex applications.
A team spent three days holding one-to-one sessions and focus groups with residents, amenity groups, local businesses, community organisations, customers and other partners, as well as district councillors.
The council was also advised to decide on a more appropriate IT system which will include an online applications process and sharing of information.
Cornwall County Council’s head of planning, housing and enterprise, Phil Mason, who led the peer review team, said: “We found West Lindsey open for growth and with an appetite for improvement.
“There is a real willingness to make the planning service as good as it can be.
“At the moment the development management service is struggling because of historical staff shortages and an increase in major and complex applications.”
But Mr Mason said the team was “really impressed” by the council’s existing staff.
He said: “As a team we were really impressed by the quality of staff across the whole of the organisation who want to make things better as well as the external partners who want to get involved as well.
“Together with West Lindsey we hope we have put together a road map which will make some significant improvements quickly.”
In a joint statement, WLDC leader Coun Jeff Summers and WLDC planning committee chairman Coun Stuart Curtis described the review as a “useful exercise”.
They said: “The peer review was a very useful exercise exploring our strengths and our weaknesses.
“We have a corporate plan and it is important that the planning system helps to deliver this.
“The elements of improvement identified are essential to deliver what we are looking for.”
WLDC chief executive Manjeet Gill thanked everyone involved in the peer review.
She said: “The council is ambitious about growth, building on the strengths of the district, as well as the opportunities it offers to new investors.
“Planning needs to be at the heart working with all customers to get timely and effective decisions for the right type of growth to shift up a gear in our improvement drive.”
The council’s planning service is divided into two areas - the ‘strategic planning and regeneration’ area and the ‘development management function’.
The ‘strategic planning and regeneration’ area includes producing a local plan for Central Lincolnshire as well as regeneration work such as the Gainsborough Housing Zone, Food Enterprise Zone and Local Development Orders.
And the ‘development management function’ works to make sure all applications are suitable for the location and are sympathetic to the local area.
Main findings from the review
West Lindsey District Council’s Strengths:
lStrong ambitions for the area with emphasis on investment and growth
lHigh quality housing developments
lLow rates of successful appeals against council planning decisions
The review team’s Suggestions for improvement:
lImprove response times to customers
lUpdate the online process for planning applications so that all information is available to view online