To discuss the following matters raised by the local councils:
(a) At the meeting held on 28March 2023, Town and Parish Councils were advised paper copies of the Local Plan would NOT be printed, and that a copy of the whole document was available on the council’s website, with papers copies available to look through at local library’s and at the Civic Offices. There are some parishes in the District where access to a local library is not possible unless visiting a neighbouring village or town, or in areas where there is a library it may be open limited hours. It is understood that the rationale for EFDC not providing Parish and Town Councils with a hard copy of the local plan is simply one of cost. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill supports communities having more say over planning matters, and it should be recognised that providing Parish and Town Councils with a hard copy of the local plan would support this agenda and provide for increased opportunities for residents in the district by providing this additional facility. In addition, some Parish Councils are very small, with limited printing capacity. We therefore ask the District Council to reconsider providing each of the 24 Parish and Town Councils in the District with one hard copy of the Local Plan Part 1, Part 2, and Policies Map.
(b) Request that the Cllr Nigel Bedford, EFDC Portfolio Holder for Place, provides members with an update on who the Officers are on the Planning Policy and Implementation Team, and their respective roles.
(c) EFDC has indicated they will not provide training on the new planning system (Arcus) to Parish and Town Councils, despite this being requested on numerous occasions. As such, can EFDC answer the following:
(i) Does the new system allow a user of the site to identify which properties / who has been consulted on a planning application. If so, can you demonstrate how this can be done. If it cannot, why not?
(ii) The previous system allowed a user to search for the history of a particular property by using the ‘file number’. Can this be done on the new system, and can it be demonstrated how. If it cannot, why not?
(iii) Would EFDC be willing to commit to a 2 hour online tutorial with parish and town councils, showcasing the benefits of the new system and how it operates?
(d) The weekly planning list is normally distributed on a Friday afternoon, however there are occasions when this does not take place (due staff holiday, etc). On these occasions, could arrangements be made for another staff member to distribute the weekly list on a Friday afternoon to ensure continuity.
(e) Branch Members would like to invite the new Chairman of the Qualis Group to attend the meeting and provide an update on the Qualis organisation, how it supports the functions of EFDC, his role and responsibilities, and how he will improve openness and transparency for the council tax paying residents in the district.
(a) Copies of the Local Plan
The Local Councils had requested the District Council to provide each of the 24 Town and Parish Councils within the District with a hard copy of Part 1, Part 2 and the Policies Map of the Local Plan.
The Service Director for Planning, N Richardson, informed the Local Councils that it cost approximately £120 to print a copy of the Local Plan, and the District Council simply did not have a budget to provide the Local Councils with a copy as requested. The documents were freely available on the District Council’s website and individual Local Councils could print off their own copy.
The Local Councils felt that the District Council should be more sympathetic over this issue as £120 was a lot of money for some of the smaller Local Councils, and there were concerns about the lack of access to a printed copy of the Local Plan.
Some suggestions were made at the meeting by District Councillors to reduce the cost for Local Councils, such as sharing a printed copy or contacting a number of different printing companies to find the best price. North Weald Bassett Parish Council offered a copy for any of the Local Councils that required one.
(b) Planning Policy & Implementation Team Officers
The Local Councils had requested an update on the Officers and roles within the Planning Policy and Implementation Team.
N Richardson displayed a structure chart showing the current composition of the Team (attached as an Appendix to these minutes). There were a considerable number of interim posts within the Team, and there were a variety of reasons for this, including:
- The proximity of London and the salaries offered by the borough Councils;
- Private sector competition;
- Insufficient Planning Officers coming through the system; and
- The increasing complexity of the planning system.
N Richardson stated that other authorities in Essex had similar issues, and the Council was looking at the possibility of shared services with neighbouring authorities.
(c) Arcos Planning System
(i) N Richardson stated that the system did not allow you to identify which properties had been consulted on a particular planning application. The Council was in discussions with the provider to add this feature.
(ii) To search for the history of a particular property using the ‘file number’, N Richardson stated that users should select the ‘Advanced Search’ function to achieve this. The Chairman, Cllr D Sunger, explained that Planning Officers had demonstrated how he could search for all previous planning applications submitted from a particular road within the District.
(iii) In respect of a possible two-hour tutorial on the system for Town and Parish Councils, N Richardson requested that if the Local Councils informed him of their issues with the system, then Officers would consider the viability of running such a session. The Local Councils felt that a two-hour tutorial would be of value, even if it would not solve all the issues with using the system, and it could be held on Microsoft teams and recorded so that it could be re-watched. The Local Councils also stated that they had provided a list of issues to the previous Planning Service Manager a year ago but had had no response. N Richardson requested that this list be sent to him, and Officers would respond to the Local Councils.
(d) The Weekly Planning List
The Local Councils had highlighted that the weekly planning list was not sometimes distributed on a Friday afternoon due to staff leave or sickness and could not another remember of staff distribute the list on these occasions. N Richardson stated that this was a business support function and Officers were aware of the issue, and they would look at increasing the resilience for this function.
The Local Councils had requested that the new Chairman of the Qualis Group attend the meeting to provide an update on the Qualis organisation. G Woodhall reported that the new Chairman of Qualis had been invited but was unavailable. However, he would attend the Committee’s next meeting in early 2024.