Posted: Thu 6th Jul 2023

New planning software will help Blaenau Gwent public view and comment on applications /
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Jul 6th, 2023

IT is a “positive” move that a council is putting in place new computer software, which will make it easier for people to view and comment on planning applications, auditors have said. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

At a meeting of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council’s Planning Committee on Thursday, July 6, councillors had their say on the findings of a review of the authority’s planning service by Audit Wales. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The Audit Wales report was published last month and provided a list of four recommendations for the council to implement.
Charlotte Owen of Audit Wales said that in 2021/2022 they had conducted a desktop review of Blaenau Gwent planning performance data that had “flagged up a few issues of potential risks.”
Ms Owen said: “These were around the very high percentage of member decisions made contrary to officer advice.
“We also identified that the planning section of the council website has poor functionality compared to other councils: things like not being able to search for planning applications.
“The current IT system creates additional work for officers and hinders public involvement in the planning process.
“We then decided to do a review as part of our 2022/2023 programme and came in earlier this year to do the work.
“It’s positive to hear that the council has procured a new IT system and work is underway to implement that by early next year.
“Things have moved on since our desktop review which is very reassuring.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Planning committee chairwoman Cllr Lisa Winnett said: “I welcome the honest appraisal; I assure you we will continue to strive to improve our planning services.”
She added that “ward meetings” have been introduced between planners and councillors that discuss enforcement action or “contentious” planning applications.
Cllr Winnett said this had helped “at many levels” giving councillors the “full picture” of planning issues in their ward.
Cllr Winnett said:  “It’s about breaking down barriers and being more transparent.”
“To have so many positives in the report is absolutely amazing.
“A huge well done to our team in Blaenau Gwent.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Committee vice-chairman, Cllr Peter Baldwin said: “The new system will be a tremendous step forward, not just for us, but for our residents.”
Cllr Wayne Hodgins added that he was glad to see that the report said that Audit Wales “still sees a major role” for the Planning Committee in the future.
Head of planning Steve Smith said: “We went into this process with a degree of trepidation, it was a very fair and honest report of where we are.
“In terms of the improvement journey we’re only part of the way there.
“Key to all this is the software implementation, it will potentially free so much officer time and improve the public element who will be able to search and view planning applications online.
“It’s a huge step for us, we’ve been aware of this failing for some time and are now in a position to put it right.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The Audit Wales recommendations are:
1: Include performance measures in the Development and Estates business
2: Include in the Development and Estates business plan the service’s
contribution towards delivering the council’s corporate objectives to
demonstrate its important enabling role;
3: The council needs to assure itself that the planning service has robust data
quality arrangements to ensure that it reports accurate performance data so
that staff, members, Welsh Government, and the public can rely on
its integrity to make accurate and informed decisions.
4: Full council to consider the outcome of the scheme of delegation and
planning protocol review by September 2023 and decide on future planning
governance arrangements. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

By BBC LDRS ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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