Mersey (up) Beat on GPDO

Luis Suarez may not be seeking to extend his contract with Liverpool, but residents on Merseyside are getting on with extending their houses under the GPDO. Hats off to the planners at Liverpool City Council for trying to make things easier and for just getting on with the job.  We’re all unsure what effect the GPDO changes will have on costs and resources – you can ‘Page Down’ 40 times and still not quite reach the end of the posts on the subject on the PAS Forum* – but as usual, the real impact won’t be really known until we start experiencing it for real.

* Incidentally, the forum thread is quite impressive – some really thoughtful  debate, and a LOT more pragmatic/progressive than some of the general (if valid) speculation and hand-wringing about botched Government legislation I’ve seen elsewhere.

To follow the Mersey spirit, our planning service benchmark has been adapted so that councils can make a practical start measuring the real impact on time, resources and cost that the GPDO changes actually have on the work of planning teams.

Our benchmark is clever and records the time people spend processing different types of application. When we made the benchmark, we created a default naming system for applications – to continue a tradition started with the “Q” codes several decades ago. We’ve updated the benchmark codes (called ‘R’ codes) to reflect the new notifications in the amendment to the GPDO. This will allow us, at some future date, to be able to ask

“How many of those new householder PD prior approval things did we receive?” and even “How much did each one cost us to deal with?”.

We’ve made two new application types:

  • PD Change of Use Notifications (R085). This code is for all notifications and approvals of Change of Use following changes to GPDO 30/05/2013
  • PD Householder Notifications (R095). Notifications and approvals under Part 1 (3m-6m and 4m-8m extensions) following changes to GPDO 30/05/2013

So, instead of spending time and energy trying to predict and second-guess what impact the GPDO changes will have on your service – join the benchmark club and find out for real. Will this thing be the nightmare many are predicting? Will the increase in work doing this stuff be countered by a reduction in other work e.g. householder applications? (Which may not be a bad thing when you consider the real cost of processing a householder application is upwards of 3 times the fee you get).

Let’s buck the trend – everyone expects planners to moan – let’s take a more positive approach. Let’s back our reservations about the impact of the changes with good evidence and get on and measure the impact. Then we’ll continue the debate with a bit more ammo than ‘what-we-think-will-happen-is…’.


John Seddon is “irritating”, but that doesn’t mean “wrong”

I am a long-term fan of John Seddon’s brain. His first book “I want you to cheat” remains one of my favourites, and I’ve probably reread it every year since it was published. I also subscribe to his newsletter; this week he says:

“In the wake of the new government’s abandonment of central targets and specifications the IDeA (which, I have to admit, has changed its name, but I love calling it ‘no idea’) fills the void by recommending that we do the same wrong thing. The boss argues we need to establish a series of targets and benchmark services on unit costs. To support his argument he cites an opinion survey amongst ‘performance managers’ and ‘policy officers’ in local government; what would you expect them to say?”

Now PAS is about to launch our biggest ever project in November. What sort of project ? I’m glad you asked. It’s a benchmarking project. This isn’t the first time that John has lambasted “activity based costing” – what follows explains why I’m not losing any sleep over his latest angry little missive. Continue reading

Lessons so far – Managing Excellent Planning Services (MEPS)

MEPS is 10 months old now and we have 7 benchmarking groups made up of 30 authorities. As expected, this project gets more and more interesting as we add more sets of data into it. Its early days – I am not quite ready to share individual authorities’ improvement stories, but I can start sharing what we are learning about the planning beast more generally. Some of it confirms things we know, some makes us question some of the ‘received wisdom’ about what improves planning services, and other bits are frankly, leaving us scratching our heads… Continue reading