New 'Greater Cambridge Planning Service' being set up

21 June 2017

A new integrated planning service for the Greater Cambridge area, transformed to provide an improved service for customers along with greater capacity and resilience, is set to move a step closer.

A business case for the new service, to be considered by councillors of both councils involved – Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council – early next month, sets out how the transition to a service covering the two council areas would be introduced over the next two years.

As set out in the business case, the proposed new Greater Cambridge planning service would offer clear benefits, including:

  • Capacity to meet the growing need for strategic planning and development across the area at a time of rapid growth here; with work on a single joint future plan for the two councils due to pick up pace when work on the current two joined-up Local Plans is close to a conclusion
  • Providing a service of regional or national significance which would be more capable of attracting, developing and retaining a larger team of talented staff;
  • Offering an increased capacity and a more flexible approach to deliver a quality services for local residents and businesses and respond rapidly to the frequent changes to national planning policy.

The shared service will also be looking to update computer systems to help local people have their say on applications and support council officers and councillors with good access to planning proposals by making use of new technology.

Work towards creating a new ‘Greater Cambridge Planning Service’ started in 2015. The two councils agreed then to work towards a new shared planning service that would deliver more capacity, support high quality development and provide better customer service at a time of increased development activity in the region.

Developments have included the appointment of Stephen Kelly as Joint Director of Planning and Economic Development and a project board to develop these proposals and wider joint initiatives by the two councils on planning and transport, working closely with the City Deal and in the future with the new countywide Combined Authority.

The plans councillors will now debate have been developed alongside managers in the planning teams to make sure they take on board the views of the people doing the job.

The first full phase of the transition to the new service would see a new senior management team appointed and staff transferred from Cambridge City Council to South Cambridgeshire District Council, who would be the employer authority. In total the two councils currently employ just over 150 planners, making it one of the bigger non-urban planning teams in the UK. The procurement of a new common ICT system would also start to be investigated.

The second phase will consist of detailed work to design and implement the wider staff structure and assess the impact on other council services.

The new Greater Cambridge Planning Service is expected to be fully operational by early 2019. It would continue to have offices in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire to provide a planning service to both areas.

Cllr Peter Topping, Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said: “This new planning service is more than just a merger of the two existing teams. Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire are experiencing growth on an unprecedented scale outside of London. We owe it to our residents, as well as the businesses who want to create jobs here, and to the house builders - of all sizes - that we create a planning service that is resilient, protects what we value about our heritage and our environment, demands excellence in design, and keeps pace with the ambition for prosperity in this part of the country.

“Without this capability, we cannot expect developers or government to listen to us, and we are determined that we will be listened to, on planning matters, on behalf of our communities."

Cllr Lewis Herbert, Leader of Cambridge City Council, said: “We are determined that the proposed Greater Cambridge Planning Service will be one of the most effective planning teams in the country, providing a reliable, more straightforward service for customers and the wider community at a time of major growth in the area that is no respecter of council boundaries.

“The business case sets out how clear is the joint commitment and depth of agreement on key issues between the two councils and the route to reach our goal of a transformed planning service for the whole area, which builds on the great work the two councils have been doing together in recent years such as on our Local Plans and future planning strategy.”

The business case for the Greater Cambridge Planning Service is being discussed at Cambridge City Council’s Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on 3 July and at South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Scrutiny and Overview Committee on 6 July and Cabinet on 13 July.