Councils to consider teaming up planning services

Plymouth’s award-winning planning services could be teaming up with colleagues in Torbay as part of a comprehensive modernisation package.

Plymouth’s Cabinet will meet on 16 January to discuss approving an ‘in principle agreement’ to look at sharing some planning functions with Torbay Council.

Areas that could come under the arrangement include planning compliance, major developments, technical planning support, historic environment, strategic and local planning and environmental policy, natural infrastructure as well as a whole host of other functions including housing delivery and strategic transport.

Last year Torbay invited Plymouth City Council to carry out a service review of its spatial planning functions. It made a number of recommendations to improve the service’s vision and leadership, management, community and partnership engagement.

In April Torbay asked Plymouth to consider a collaborative arrangement with Plymouth the ‘preferred partner’ to help secure the improvements. The paper gives the green light for more exploratory work between the two councils to see how it would work in practice.

Deputy leader of the Council Patrick Nicholson said: “Plymouth has considerable experience in bringing in changes that help its residents, its businesses and its investors in the way we deliver strategic planning services. Both authorities have a strong commitment to growth and we believe there are many potential opportunities to work collaboratively together.

“We were asked to carry out a review to help Torbay get a clear picture of the improvements they need to make and are now being asked to work more closely with them so that these changes can be made at pace.

“This paper allows us to explore thoroughly the implications for our staff and our customers.”

The move could not only support colleagues in Torbay but could have positive results for Plymouth’s reputation and the wider South West region.

The report outlines potential benefits which could include

• Efficiencies through economies of scale and increased digitisation of planning and related functions and their delivery.

• Increased resilience of planning and related functions with improved opportunities for staff retention, development, and job enrichment through integrated working.

• A stronger voice with Government and an enhanced reputation for strategic place-based leadership through sharing best practice.

Councillor Derek Mills, Executive Lead for Planning at Torbay Council added: “Planning has always been much wider than the boundaries of one authority. All authorities are working more closely together to deliver housing and vital infrastructure designed to encourage economic growth and prosperity for our residents and businesses.

“Plymouth has been worked closely with planners in South Hams and West Devon to deliver the South West Devon Joint Local Plan and we are all involved in the development of the Plymouth-Exeter-Torbay Corridor Initiative, which recognises the role urban areas have in creating growth and jobs.”

The cabinet paper sets out the guiding principles, operating arrangements, governance and timescales for developing and implementing a more integrated approach to strategic planning and related services between Plymouth City Council and Torbay Council.

The cabinet paper provides the baseline for the initial ‘due diligence’/’strategic options appraisal’ and an update on progress is expected at Cabinet in March.