A Planning peer challenge offers you a flexible look at your service and provides the basis for substantive improvement without adding to your budget pressures.

Planning is facing significant changes. A new national planning policy framework and the abolition of regional spatial strategies, the community infrastructure levy and neighbourhood planning.

This is all happening in the face of tightening budgets.

It is therefore a good time to make sure that your service is ready to face these challenges. We're funded to deliver a Planning peer challenge, free of charge, so that getting a good idea of where to go next is not going to add to your budgetary pressures.

With freedom comes responsibility

You may no longer be at the receiving end of Audit Commission inspections but you still need to make sure you are doing a good job. A peer challenge is not a cure-all, but is an important part of consolidating and assessing any work you've already done or laying the groundwork for making a start.

Challenge themes

The following five themes are the starting point but we will shape the process to fit your local circumstances.

  • How well is your planning service supporting local priority outcomes?
  • Is there a clear and locally-distinctive planning vision for the area together with a strategy that sets out how the council will address planning needs for sustainable communities, housing and the local economy?
  • How will the council enable citizens and communities to shape their localities in a way that meets their needs and aspirations?
  • Does the council provide a good service to users?
  • How will the council work with other councils, agencies and communities to coordinate where necessary and work productively?

How it works

The challenge is tailored to meet the specific needs you have. The onsite phase of the challenge takes place over four days. The challenge will consist of the following stages:

  • preparation of a position statement and timetable
  • onsite work: principally interviews and discussion groups
  • feedback on key findings and practical suggestions for accelerating improvement
  • action planning session
  • free follow up consultancy support.

The challenge team

We take a flexible approach so that we can bring together the right team for your council. The team will usually include:

  • team leader – senior planning manager (head of service or director)
  • member peer – senior councillor with planning experience
  • officer peer – senior planning officer
  • challenge manager – LGA manager.

Our peer challenge team members will always be experienced in planning services and local government.

What others say

Jan Britton, Chief Executive, Sandwell Council, October 2012:

"The peer challenge of Sandwell's planning service was one of the most useful reviews we've done this year. It helped us to validate the progress we've made since changing the service in 2009 and plan our next steps. It also drew our attention to some areas we hadn't previously considered.

The review was interesting and challenging – and the council team got almost as much from the process over the three days and the informal conversation, as they did from the written report at the end of the process. This is sector-led improvement as it should be." 

Phil Mason, Head of Planning and Regeneration, Cornwall Council, October 2012:

"The peer challenge process was conducted by a highly professional team of experts in their respective fields. Workers and managers from all the agencies involved commented positively on the ‘critical friend' approach that was taken by the team. The quality of the dialogue with the team leader and team members was found to be really high and the continuous feedback approach was extremely helpful. We were able to shape the team and help select team members particularly appropriate for our individual needs.

The peer challenge has provided us with inspiration for improvements in particular areas of work and the team delivered some very concrete examples of the potential impact of some of their recommendations. The peer challenge has helped provide particular impetus to areas where we were looking to make improvements.

Cornwall Council has taken a proactive approach to the opportunities highlighted in our peer challenge. The team helped and advised on next steps, provided information so we can learn from other councils and facilitated a planning elected councillor conference. This was a very positive day and through this we have been helped to engage our wider membership. I am confident that with the help so far and ongoing support from the peer challenge team that there will be many positive changes to come."

Brad Fleet, Director of Development Services, Wiltshire Council, January 2012:

"The peer challenge was an extremely valuable and productive exercise. The challenge team were experienced in the service area they examined and their conclusions were both relevant and well focused. As a result, the feedback from the team was welcomed by both members and officers who agreed that the final recommendations were practical and would all improve service delivery, staff engagement and customer satisfaction.

I also felt that the process was collaborative and far less stressful for the staff involved than previous inspection regimes and because the challenge team offered tangible solutions and practical help, rather than simply listing areas of concern, the whole process was seen as supportive and helpful rather than another 'inspection'."

Further information

For further information about the Planning Peer Challenge, please contact your regional Principal Adviser.