In attendance for this item were:
Ian Bamforth, Senior Programme Manager
Adrian Tuck, Section 278 and 38 Development Control Manager
Paul Smith, Assistant Director for Highways and Transport Operations
The Panel considered an update report on the Council’s work on developer funded highways infrastructure, in particular the time taken for planning submissions from developers to meet the criteria for approval. A presentation was also given by the Senior Programme Manager.
The Programme Manager advised that a review of key areas of the Council’s 278/38 Development Control activity had been started in January 2021. The review was to take account of key issues raised by the Panel as well as issues identified by the Management Team. A working group with developers had now been established and was meeting every 3 months. Areas of discussion, and upon which progress to date had been made, included:
· The review of the streetlighting design process
· Technical approval process and the 4 submissions escalation process
· Early planning engagement
· A protocol for working effectively together.
The Panel was informed that the street lighting technical design process had been reviewed and agreed timescales and performance measures put in place. The Programme Manager highlighted that the average duration for completion of the design process had previously been 193 days, but that the review had concluded that 91 days was an achievable target, provided all timescales were met by the Council and the developer. The process was currently being tested and carefully monitored, with monthly performance figures being produced. Where issues did arise, these were being addressed proactively as the trial progressed. It was noted that this model would be used as the basis for the wider technical approval process.
In terms of the design technical approval process, the Panel was informed that a thorough review was underway and revised elements were being implemented. Key improvements to the process included offering early review meetings to developers, having more focussed milestones for each section of the process, a joint meeting with the developer if a 3rd submission was required and if the 4th submission stage was reached, instigating the escalation procedure. The latter would ensure that if the process was not progressing at an adequate pace and a 4th submission stage was reached, the matter would be escalated to Senior Managers for them to review with the developer and identify what obstacles were causing the delay.
Alongside the above, the Programme Manager explained that there was a review of the schemes register, currently with around 474 schemes active at this point. This review would be completed within the next 6 to 8 weeks, following which the full list would be made available to the Panel to review.
The Panel was also informed that a resource plan had been agreed to ensure that the Development Control Team had sufficient capacity to deal with the number of developments involving Section 38/278 activity. Additional contractor resource had been brought in as well as additional engineer posts being advertised. A joint Officer post was also being created in partnership with Wychavon and Malvern Hills District Councils.
Engagement by the Development Control Team at an earlier pre-planning stage with developers was seen to be an effective way to take matters forward in a proactive manner. This was already underway in the case of about 12 schemes and with further resources in place, this would be able to be expanded.
The Programme Manager also wanted to highlight was that Officers were in the process of liaising with Midland Highways Alliance + to see how other Highways authorities provided development control services. A report would be prepared to summarise key learning points gained during this process.
The Chairman invited discussion and the following main points were made:
· In response to a query on a scheme where 12 re-submissions had been made, the Development Control Manager explained that this was an unusual case and the figure was misleading. Having originally been a combined scheme it later had to be split owing to ecology issues. The Panel was informed that in this case the development approval had been ready for a while, but the developer had chosen not to sign it yet.
· Further to the above, the Panel was made aware that some of the delays in the system were due to developers seeking not to progress with signing legal agreements until it suited them financially. This meant that customers could be disadvantaged for a longer period, which was out of the control of the Council. Members asked for further written explanation of this process, the actions, and motives of the developers and what the Council’s position was.
· In response to a query as to which developers had taken part in the review process, the Panel was informed that this was Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon, Redrow and Bloors. These 4 developers represented over half of the Council’s work in this area.
· The impact on residents from delays in the process was a key concern for the Panel. The Development Control Manager explained that S278 works were on Council land so developers couldn’t commence works until the Council was satisfied they had met all the requirements. S38 works on the development site, however, were able to be started as soon as planning consent was granted and therefore residents were able to occupy properties before works were fully completed in a development. New residents were made aware of this during the conveyancing process. The Chairman highlighted that over time when owners sought to sell their homes, purchasers sought evidence of the road being adopted, and the homeowners had to take out indemnity insurance to protect themselves if this had yet to take place.
· A Member expressed interest in how this Council’s current average duration for completion of the street lighting design process compared to other Councils across the country. The Programme Manager commented that a regional comparison would be useful.
· A Member expressed his desire that a real impact was able to be made in this area with tighter contracts, deadlines with penalties attached and much improved communication with residents and those using the road network.