[This column was originally published in Planning Magazine, March 2007]
A local authority that has recently participated in the new Planning Peer Review said: ‘We decided it would be a very useful health check and also help us to continue to improve. What was a high performing authority five years ago would not be high performing now if it stood still.’
The Planning Advisory Service is offering a bespoke Planning Peer Review service, carried out by senior planners and Councillors from other councils with no agenda other than to help. I’m inviting planning authorities to closely examine and expose their services to some critical friends.
The review is based on the well-regarded flagship service of the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA). 20? Councils have already used the planning peer review to help them to sustain current good performance and map a route to further improvement. This challenge appeals to authorities that want to take a close look at what works and what doesn’t. It provides planners with a chance to review the real issues at the heart of an effective service: customer focus, working with partners, interacting with the public and delivering outcomes.
We know that the planning sector values the benchmark of an ideal planning service against which they can test their services that PAS has published. The benchmark has been developed and is led by by the sector. It is a useful tool for all planning authorities, not just under performing ones. So how does peer review work? The 1st step is the the self-assessment process. This enables authorities to take a close and honest look at their services, and in itself is a helpful improvement tool. This internal look can often get closer to the roots of success and problems than inspectors or consultants. Following on from the self-assessment, a team of planning professionals and experienced members using the self-assessment document as a starting point interviews staff and members across the authority. The process is transparent with the internal peer review team sharing their progress on the final report, so that nothing comes as a surprise and the internal team has an opportunity to refute anything that they do not agree with. The whole process is similar to a close examination in the mirror, followed by honest feedback from a friend who wants the best outcome for you.
PAS suggests follow on work after the final report is issued and participants join a community of fellow review participants to share information and discuss issues. Further information is available at http://www.pas.gov.uk