Kirklees Council is to streamline and ‘speed up’ the planning process after a log jam in the system led to complaints from local developers.
Smaller locally-based developers became frustrated over delays to small-scale projects which were the lifeblood of their businesses.
They joined together to lobby the council, calling for change. The council blamed the delays on a lack of staff due to a national shortage of suitably qualified planning officers.
Now the council has published its plans to simplify the planning process and speed up decision-making.
The council has drawn up new guidance around which decisions require discussion by one of the council’s planning committees. Council officers will now have more power to make decisions without referring applications to a planning committee.
Going forward, applications will only be decided at committee if they are a significant departure from the overall Kirklees Local Plan, if public opinion on a planning application is strongly against the officer recommendation, or if the planning application has been referred by a ward councillor.
If an application is being decided at committee because it’s been referred by a ward councillor, that councillor will then be required to attend in person or send a ward colleague representative.
From February 2024, the structure of Kirklees’ planning committees will also change, reducing the number of committees from three to two.
In future the Strategic Planning Committee will focus on major planning applications, while a District-Wide Planning Committee will focus on minor and other (household) applications. Each committee will meet in Huddersfield Town Hall every six weeks.
Previously the council had separate planning sub-committees for North and South Kirklees. The Heavy Woollen planning sub-committee – which covered Dewsbury, Mirfield, Batley, Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton – met at Dewsbury Town Hall.
The council says that as well as making the planning process more efficient, the changes will save the council around £100,000 a year.
A council spokesman said: “In the long-term, the wider aim is to encourage more developers to consider sites within Kirklees for development, whilst ensuring that local communities continue to play an active part in the planning process.”
Kirklees Council is also about to embark on a full-scale review of its Local Plan, the development blueprint for the district.
All councils must offer a five-year supply of potential housing land and Kirklees has now slipped below that.
Until a new Local Plan is in place the council must operate a “presumption in favour” of development on certain sites.
The council has agreed an Interim Housing Position Statement as one of a number of measures to help address the shortfall of housing land. The council has a goal of building 1,730 new homes per year between now and 2031.
Speaking about the changes to the planning system, Clr Graham Turner (above), Cabinet member for finance and regeneration, said: “These changes sound small but they will hopefully speed up our decision-making around planning applications of all sizes – at this stage simply by placing more responsibility with knowledgeable planning officers.
“In February we’ll also be streamlining our committees. And, crucially, we’ll still be making sure that local communities are involved in the process when an application matters to them.
“We have ambitious goals for regeneration across Kirklees and that means we need to be doing all we can to encourage new planning applications – without sacrificing quality or public engagement.
“There are so many reasons and we want to further improve our reputation as a good place to build and as a good local authority to partner with on development.
“We’re not only streamlining and modernising our approach to the planning system – we’ll also see some cost savings which will help us deliver a balanced budget in 2024.”
On building more houses in Kirklees, Clr Turner added: “We absolutely must honour our commitment to creating more quality housing for the people of Kirklees, and we are willing to take the necessary steps to do that.
“Local authorities up and down the country are struggling, and we’re facing a housing shortage not just in Kirklees but across the UK.
“This Interim Housing Position Statement document will help us meet our targets for housing growth, whilst still maintaining high standards for developments, and it’ll shape the future of Kirklees.”