Residents may soon have to pay a fee for making queries about planning applications.
Hastings Borough Council’s cabinet committee met yesterday evening (Monday, September 5) to discuss the proposal, along with other proposed changes to the authority’s planning department.
No charges have been set but a system is expected to be put in place at a later date.
Councillors on the authority’s cabinet committee agreed unanimously in principle to charging the public for making planning queries.
A report by Andrew Palmer, the council’s assistant director of housing and built environment, outlining the plans was 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.
“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, while maintaining a focus on service improvement.”
Councillors also approved of proposed recommendations to improve the council’s website, including updating and enhancing planning information, as well as employing two new members of staff.
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.”
Council leader, Peter Chowney, said: “It’s worth noting that the charging structure legally has to reflect the cost involved and some authorities also subsidise that. This is not an income generator.”
Cllr Andrew Cartwright said: “There are clear issues of workload faced by our planning team and this report goes a long way to remedy that.”
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