ARobinson took the report as read and presented the following highlights. It was noted that Q1 planning income has increased, largely as a result of 2 specific planning applications, though planning applications are down overall due to restrictions currently in place. Whilst performance has improved since the last quarter, the service is still under considerable resourcing pressure. The Committee's attention was also drawn to section 2 of the report on the Q1 service highlights, including article directions to protect office space, ongoing work to support planning resilience work streams, work with the government to pilot a number of digital system reforms, and money collected as part of the Community Structure Levy.
Cllr Beauchamp referred to item 2.8 of the report, noting the commissioning and feasibility study on e-scooters, and asked if considerations also be given to pedestrians. Cllr Beauchamp noted an incident where a resident couldn't hear an e-scooter coming up behind them, and asked if they should be encouraging people to break the law by driving them on pavements. ARobinson agreed the user conflict is a key issue to address. On the legality point, ARobinson stated that the government are looking at if this can be decriminalised in the future, and the study will help them see if the scooter system can be run should it be made legal. ARobinson also noted that this is a small part of a larger transportation strategy.
Cllr Beauchamp asked if the responses to the consultation would be within the public domain. ARobinson advised that the results would feed into the wider transport strategy and could update members of the Committee on the findings of the report if this was requested.
Cllr England commented on a visit to Cambridge, an area with high bike usage, and that Dacorum is not a space for human-powered cycling, which has resulted in it becoming a pedestrianised town. Cllr England stated that if they would need sensible provision for people as well as learn as a community to coexist as an increased use of bikes, e-bikes and scooters would help solve parking challenges that residents currently face.
Cllr England queried if there is a strategy for the use of CIL and Section 106. ARobinson advised that the position of the council is that it would not spend any CIL until the infrastructure delivery plan was in place. There has been a delay to the plan, and while the current decision is not to bring forward any spending of the core CIL funds, members have access to a portion of CIL that can be spent freely. ARobinson noted the ongoing conversation regarding the release of core funding and stated that the infrastructure commitments will be significant so CIL money needs to be spent correctly to maximise the impact it can have on the borough. A comment was raised, stating that they are yet to spend the core CIL money because they know they will not receive what is required and prioritisation will be required once the CIL money has been pooled. It was also noted that they may look to release a small part of the CIL money, though this will be as part of the prioritisation process and is further complicated that some parts of the area's infrastructure is handled by another council.
Cllr England countered the previous comment, stating that given the current state of inflation, CIL will reduce if not spend for several years and should therefore be considered. It was noted that they would not spend all the CIL to avoid it devaluing and that inflation is expected to improve.
Cllr Timmis commented on the use of acronyms within the report, noting item 2.7 of the report regarding ESRI pilots using GIS analytics, and asked if these could be explained further. ARobinson apologised for this and confirmed that the specific references for ESRI and GIS are regarding the software used for mapping and digitising data. The project uses ESRI who use a more interactive type of software and they are exploring if this would be a better system to use.
Cllr Stevens returned to the questions regarding e-scooters and urged some warning around pilots, referring to a pilot running in Canterbury where the portfolio holder pulled the pilot due to improper use of e-scooters and bikes on pavements and resulting in injuring a pedestrian.
Cllr Stevens referred to the comment in the report regarding planning resilience in section 2.3 and asked for further clarification on this. ARobinson explained that this is to recognise resourcing issues within the planning service, as there are across the country, and that they are exploring different ways to address this. There are a number of initiatives being explored, such as pooling resources with HCC and restructuring, as well as using IT differently and identifying efficiencies within existing processes. Cllr Stevens noted the report on mitigation strategies and assessments, and asked if this would add to the workload. ARobinson confirmed that it would and that they would look at this further.
Cllr Harden referred to section 3.10 of the report, noting the '100% defending planning appeals in Q1', and suggested that this be highlighted as a compliment to officers and Committee members in being able to successfully defend it. Cllr Harden commented that it was positive to see this figure increase from Q4 and asked that the Committee's appreciation be communicated to the team. Cllr Anderson advised that they have just lost an appeal, though he noted the hard work carried out by officers. Cllr Hearn echoed Cllr Harden's comments and noted the work done by the team. ARobinson thanked the Committee for the recognition, particularly during this period of significant challenges.
Cllr Hearn noted the difficulties in recruiting and asked for a further update. ARobinson advised that recruitment is an issue across Hertfordshire and task and finish groups are being set up by HCC to look at this further. Recruitment campaigns are in place and they are struggling to recruit senior officers as they are moving into the private sector, therefore the strategy is to recruit more junior staff and attract younger candidates, though this means it will take longer to train these members of staff. ARobinson advised that this is a long-term issue and that they will need to reconsider who they are recruiting, training, and also looking creatively at how to work with joining authorities.
Cllr Hearn asked if junior officers are receiving the support and mentoring that they require. ARobinson confirmed that this has been recognised, and whilst there are benefits to working remotely, they are ensuring this it not to the detriment of those earlier in their careers. The balance is ensuring people have flexibility for officers whilst ensuring that those in more senior roles are accessible so they can develop their staff.
Cllr Beauchamp commended the current planning officers, commenting on how responsive they are and asked that this be passed on to the team. Cllr Beauchamp echoed Cllr Hearn's comments regarding mentoring, stating that this is key to bringing people up to the level of more experienced officers and that this has to be done in-person.
The Committee noted the report.