Heads of Planning are BUMs

Planning Advisory Service doesn’t advertise. If it did, I reckon an ‘advertorial’ would be appropriate and what follows is my attempt at writing one. It’s aimed primarily at those that could benefit from our support, but also at ourselves. You see, no matter how many hours of chin stroking in locked rooms we do putting our service plan together, there is always the nagging doubts… ‘have we got it right’?… ‘Do councils actually want what we’re offering?’… and the scary one; ‘are we relevant’?

I have just returned from a Peer Challenge at a really good council in the North of England. The myriad of interviews, document reading, tours and presentations that inform the review gave me the opportunity to assess, first hand, how relevant PAS services are. And I am going to slap PAS on the back and say well done. So, if you can’t bear self- congratulatory spiel look away now, if however you are interested in how PAS can help councils with some real examples, swallow hard and keep reading. Continue reading


Diary of a Planning Peer Reviewer

Dear diary, planning peer reviews rock!*  This is my first day on a planning peer review. Peer reviews are run on a variety of themes that look closely at how a particular service performs and integrates with the rest of the council (generally speaking). We’re doing a review of a planning service in the south east. The head of the planning service here has worked very hard in preparation for our visit. And I think there are high expectations for what we’ll deliver. Continue reading

There are always two sides to a story

I have just returned, tired but happy, from participating as a team member in a planning peer review at Bromsgrove district council. I was lucky enough to be part of a dynamic, positive and hugely experienced team of member and officer peers and IDeA staff and found the whole experience extremely positive. This experience has prompted me to consider the huge benefits that can be drawn from the peer review process, which is after all one of the IDeA’s unique selling points. Peers in this context are unique being of the sector, for the sector. This means that generally there is no animosity or resentment directed toward them during the course of a review and officers and members alike open up in a genuine way – something that I think rarely happens at inspection, or indeed during other “critical friend” opportunities such as the PINS frontloading visits.

Continue reading

Planning Peer Review

[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