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Agenda Item No

 

Matter Which the Chairman has Decided Is Urgent by Reason of the Need to Consider issues Raised at the Scrutiny Meeting of the 9th April 2013

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Economy and Environment Scrutiny Committee - 16th April 2013

 

Rob Thomas - Director of Development Services

 

Changing Economic Circumstances: Supporting Businesses in the Local Economy - Feedback on Issues Raised

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To provide initial, urgent feedback on some of the issues raised at the Scrutiny committee meeting of the 9th April.

Recommendations

That the report be noted.

Reasons for the Recommendations

The report is for noting.

 

Background

2.             The Scrutiny committee meeting of the 9th April heard evidence and views from many local businesses and representatives of business groups on issues relating to the current business climate as well as the role of the Council in assisting businesses.  Evidence and views were expressed verbally, with a number of comments provided.

Relevant Issues and Options

3.             As a number of comments were made on the evening of the 9th April, and although this report will not seek to précis or address all of the issues raised, it does seek to provide some background evidence and information in respect of certain issues that were raised by contributors.  It also seeks to provide some context in terms of what work has progressed since the previous similar meeting held in June 2011 (para 10 of the report of 9th April refers).

4.             As a starting point, since June 2011, work has commenced on the Local Development Plan and it is currently envisaged that a replacement Deposit Plan will be presented to Cabinet and Council prior to the Summer recess.  This replacement Plan will seek to allocate land for business and economic development.  Members will be aware that the previous Deposit Local Development Plan (LDP) sought to allocate land at St. Athan and the Airport for business activity as well as other key locations in Barry, Llandow and South of Junction 34 of the M4.  These allocations will be reviewed as part of the ongoing work on the replacement Deposit LDP.  In the interim, the Council has held several discussions with Renishaw, which has acquired the former Bosch site at Miskin (South of the M4) in terms of assisting with their future plans and aspirations for the site.

5.             St. Athan and Cardiff Airport has been designated an Enterprise Zone.  The Council has a seat on the Enterprise Zone Board and also is represented on the Cardiff Airport Task Force.  The redevelopment of Barry Waterfront has now commenced, with preparation works ongoing.  Outline planning permission has been granted for the entire regeneration site with detailed approval recently issued for the phase 1 residential development.  In addition full planning permission has been issued for the new road link which serves the site and provides a direct link to the Island.

6.             In terms of the role of Barry Island the Barry Regeneration Area Board has resolved to fund £3.3m worth of enhancements on Barry Island over the coming 12 months with the Council's Cabinet resolving in March to progress a master plan for the Island as well as marketing Nells Point as a site for commercial and leisure development.

7.             In terms of farm diversification, the various departments within Development Services now work closely in dealing with projects relating to rural regeneration and diversification.  A good example of this work is the joined up approach to the Perfect Pitch or Coastal Camping project during the Summer of 2012.  This resulted in a successful trial with owners also seeking to take their sites forward on a permanent basis.  Work is also currently underway on a Destination Action Plan, which will build on the Council's Tourism Strategy.  The work should be completed later this year.  Finally, a framework for the future of the Town Centres in the Vale of Glamorgan is nearly complete and the consultants who were commissioned to undertake the work have been asked to update their final draft to correct some drafting errors, prior to completion of their commission.

8.             In terms of the comments made on the evening, the following is a summary of some of the main points made in respect of the role of the Council:

Requests as to the status of the town centre strategy (please see comments under para 7 above).

The complexity of the planning system, with a number of conversations referring to the planning system being arduous and businesses having to 'jump through hoops'.  Due to the arduous nature of the process, many commentators stated that the length of time taken to determine applications was an issue.  One commentator went so far as suggesting that the Council officers deliberately took a long time to determine applications in order to protect their own jobs.  A house building representative suggested that he should not have to spend weeks arguing about "the colour of tarmac".

In reply, it is conceded that the planning process is complex.  It is more complex now than it was in previous years and will be more complex in future years.  This is because the requirements imposed upon those wishing to develop land are increasing.  Any major scheme, involving development of land now requires a series of assessments and reports to be submitted dealing with a whole host of impacts.  It is not untypical to require comprehensive traffic impact assessments, ecological reports, flooding assessments, retail impact assessments, design and access assessments, archaeological reports as well as specialised reports and submissions with structural surveys if a scheme involves work in a conservation area or listed buildings.  The planning system is a statutory service, and local authorities cannot "cherry pick" how it operates the service.  It either works within the regulations or, if it works outside of there is a risk of judicial review and High Court challenge.  Your officers are therefore not being obstructive when they require the submission of reports and assessments, they are merely working with the regulations.

To suggest that officers are taking a long time to progress applications in order to protect their own careers is a claim without foundation and not backed up by evidence. 

During 2009/10 the Council consistently determined circa 80% - 85% of all applications within 8 weeks of receipt.  In 2010/11 the percentage ranged from 76% (quarter 3) to 80% (quarter 1).  In 2011/12 the figures ranged from 82% (quarter 4) to 87% (quarter 1).  In these 3 years the Vale of Glamorgan's position in the Welsh league table was consistently within the upper quartile.

In terms of the current year (2012/13) the returns for quarter 1 stood at 86% (2nd highest), quarter 2 at 74% (5th place), quarter 3 at 74% (8th place).  The slight drop in performance during quarter 3 has resulted in the Council falling out of the upper quartile for the first time in 4 years.  An analysis of the data has indicated that this is due to a fall in the speed of determination in respect of householder applications which is by far the majority of the applications received by the Council.  During quarter 3 and 4 of 2012/13 87% of all householder applications were determined within 8 weeks, this comparing with a performance in the mid 90% range earlier in the year and in previous years.   This drop in performance must also be read against a backdrop of staffing issues that have affected the Development Control team over the last 12 months.  In particular a number of officers undertook periods of maternity and paternity leave during 2012, whilst one officer left the Council in August 2012 and was only replaced in October 2012.  Other issues which have impacted on the above performance is an increase in the number of applications for householder and minor development in general which have been called to Planning Committee in the period June - December 2012 with 41 applications being called to Committee during this period, compared to 23 throughout 2011.  This has a clear impact in that because of the frequency of committee meetings, it is unlikely that any application reported to committee could be determined within the required 8 week period.

In terms of discussions on issues of detail (including the colour of tarmac), the following is highly relevant.  Planning exists to facilitate appropriate development and secure investment and development where sustainable.  To this end, planning exists in the public interest.  Officers of the Council and elected Members should always stand firm against requests to reduce quality.  In addition, we must balance the views of applicants and objectors and those making representations.  Whilst for some we may take too long to determine applications, others will suggest we don't take long enough and don't attach adequate weight to objections.

There was a general consensus that the planning system prevents development

Members of the Committee will be interested to know that the following figures are relevant:

Percentage of all applications determined that were approved:

93% (1038 of 1115)    2010/11

90% (949 of 1049)      2011/12

93% (874 of 943)        2012/13

Far from preventing development, the system does allow for development.  In addition, the measure of success should not just relate to the percentages of proposals approved and the speed of determination, but also to the quality of the decisions.  To this end there will be occasions where the speed of determination has to be compromised in order to improve the quality of the submission.  For this the Council should not make any apologies, provided requests for improvements are appropriate and necessary.

The view was expressed that house builders will go elsewhere if they don't get an efficient service.

The Council should always strive to provide an efficient, quality service to all those who participate in the planning system, including applicants, representors, objectors and the communities in question.  However, to suggest that house builders will not want to develop in the Vale of Glamorgan as a result of the Council wishing to carefully scrutinised new proposals and working to add quality to proposals is not accepted.  The Vale of Glamorgan is a viable area for house building and will always be extremely attractive to the major house builders.  Evidence of this is the fact that a number of the commentators referred to the fact that the Vale is a wonderful place to live.

The view was expressed that saying no to new development is no longer a sustainable option (planning consultant).

This is not accepted.  Sometimes saying no to new development is the only appropriate course of action, especially where that development is not sustainable or is not of sufficient quality, or where schemes are ill thought out or inappropriate.  The decisions made by the Council represents a legacy for Communities and great care needs to be taken to assess all proposals.

The view was expressed that in terms of Legal Agreements, drafting was taking too long and that it was taking too long to issue final decisions where Legal Agreements were required.

The evidence indicates that the issuing of decisions where S106 Agreements are involved could be undertaken quicker and this is something that I will be discussing with colleagues to establish whether performance could be improved, taking into account the staffing limitations.  In terms of context the number of Legal Agreements is increasing and their complexity is also increasing given an increased emphasis on viability issues.

Several consultants indicated that the Council was not willing to be flexible on S106 Agreements, and that if affordable housing is to be delivered, then the Council would have to compromise on other requirements such as education contributions and public open space.  In summary, it was stated that the Council could not expect to cover everything in S106 Agreements.

In response, each case will require addressing on a case by case basis.  That said, the views are not accepted and the evidence available suggests that the Vale is such a vibrant area, that we should not concede on negotiations without firm viable evidence to the contrary.  Where such evidence has been provided in respect of recent schemes we have been pragmatic.  In other cases we have continued to negotiate and have had much success.  By way of example recent schemes have resulted in agreements that deliver the required level of affordable housing, as well as a suite of other measures relating to education, public open space, transport enhancements, community facility and Art.  Furthermore our work in the Community Infrastructure Levy has indicated that in viability terms there is firm evidence to suggest that the Vale of Glamorgan is one of the most viable areas for new development outside of London.

Concerns were raised that for proposals relating to farming, the Council should use the prior notification procedure in favour of planning applications.

The regulations exist and compliance with the regulations must be achieved.  To this end the Council always applies the relevant regulations.  The Council cannot pick and chose which set of regulations to apply, as to do so would leave the Council and applicant open to challenge.

There were other positive remarks, in particular the good partnership working taking place in the rural Vale on regeneration projects, the fact that Barry is now in a very positive position on regeneration and the fact that the Council is now embracing tourism in a very proactive manner when it comes to planning policy and planning decisions

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

9.             None directly attributable to this particular report.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

10.        None directly attributable to this report, although economic development, business support and planning issues do contribute to the principle of sustainable development when applied appropriately.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

11.        None directly attributable to this particular report.

Crime and Disorder Implications

12.        None directly attributable to this particular report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

13.        No direct equal opportunities attributable to this report.

Corporate/Service Objectives

14.        The provision of support for business and new investment contributes to regeneration.

Policy Framework and Budget

15.        The report is in the Council's policy framework and budget.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

16.        None relevant.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

17.        Economy and Environment

Background Papers

Report of the 9th April - Changing Economic Circumstances: Supporting Businesses in the Local Economy

 

Contact Officer

Rob Thomas

 

Officers Consulted

n/a

 

Responsible Officer:

Rob Thomas, Director of Development Services

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