Hastings council proposal to charge public for planning queries

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Council bosses are considering charging the public for making queries about planning applications in the borough.

Hastings Borough Council’s cabinet committee will be discussing the proposal, along with other proposed changes to the authority’s planning department, at a meeting on Monday (September 5).

A report by Andrew Palmer, the council’s assistant director of housing and built environment, outlining the plans will be presented at the meeting.

It said: “The planning service currently receives a high number of general enquiries, which is a significant demand upon the existing staffing compliment.”

Between April 1 last year and March 31 this year, there were 1,295 queries.

Mr Palmer’s report added: “It is recommended that a charge is set for general queries to the planning team of £50 plus VAT.

“To support this, improvements to the council website are recommended including updating and enhancing planning information, introduction of self-assessment forms, and a publically accessible GIS mapping system or alternative means to publically access site constraints.

“In addition, several options are being explored for uploading all planning history to the council’s website. The 2017/18 corporate budget contains provision for the employment of six apprentices and one option might be to employ some of their time on uploading planning decisions and dealing with the associated paperwork.”

Neighbouring Rother charges residents £54 for general enquiries on planning. Other authorities that also charge include Tunbridge Wells Borough Council where the fee is £60 and Wealden District Council, which charges £220 for listed building queries.

Mr Palmer’s report added: “The introduction of the charging structure, along with other supportive measures, should reduce the number of general enquires received while improving the overall availability of planning advice to residents. This will enable the planning team to better balance their workloads, whilst maintaining a focus on service improvement.

“The proposals will address a staffing deficit and create the capacity for staff to effectively manage the council’s core primary planning functions while maintaining and improving customer focus.

The changes are considered necessary to meet service expectations, including current corporate performance targets for planning and the new national performance indicators set by government following the implementation of the Housing and Planning Act 2016.”

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