Changes to planning services at County Hall

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COUNTY chiefs have claimed that changes to its planning management services will help to improve the application process.

A large part of Northumberland is now covered by a new strategic and urban development management team based at County Hall.

The area it looks after includes a geographic arc extending from Prudhoe in the west, through Ponteland, Morpeth and the area of the former rural coalfield between Morpeth and Amble.

The way planning applications are managed is also changing and a team has been established to deal specifically with more straightforward bids, such as those relating to house improvements, advertisements and work on trees.

A major projects team has been established to work across the county on larger developments, for example new mineral sites, town centre refurbishments, major renewable energy proposals and large-scale housing schemes.

All other applications will be dealt with by the relevant office for their area – the Hexham and Alnwick offices are being retained – and no changes are proposed to the current system of four planning committees (central planning and environment, north, south east and west).

After consulting with people who visit its contact centres, members of the public will be able to pick up planning application forms, drop in completed forms and view current proposals at the Morpeth County Hall, Hexham and Alnwick offices.

It will also be possible to meet with a planning officer or monitoring and enforcement officer, although appointments will be required.

Coun Tom Brechany, executive member responsible for planning, housing and regeneration at the county council, said: “At the heart of these changes is the aim of providing a high quality development management service.

This is challenging at a time when savings have to be made and customer expectations are increasing.

“Responding to these needs means doing things more innovatively to 
ensure that we deliver what we need to and that we have a developing and 
growing service which is able to respond to the future needs of Northumberland.”

Continued development of its online provision will enable an even higher proportion of people to find the information and advice they need on the authority’s website.

Future plans for the service include giving advice at planning surgeries, which would be at a more local level than the two area offices and will be based around libraries or other community-based venues.

Meanwhile, a new public speaking protocol for planning meetings has been agreed by councillors.

This includes sharing the five minutes for local councillor representation between the county councillor for the area where an application has been lodged and the local parish council.

In the past, the parish council was asked to try and speak within the five minutes for those in support or those against the bid.

Another measure to be introduced is a registration system for members of the public wishing to put forward their views at committee meetings.

This came in after a few instances where people turned up at meetings saying they have been given an opportunity to speak, but democratic services had no record of their request.