A political leader says a “picture is emerging of a failed leadership” after a council were served with dozens of recommendations to improve its planning department.

A review into the planning service at Hertsmere Borough Council has “lifted the curtain on multiple and systematic problems”, according to Labour group leader Cllr Jeremy Newmark.

A summary of the review, undertaken by the East of England Local Government Association (EELGA) earlier this year, lists 48 recommendations of possible improvements for the council to consider.

Some of the concerns raised in the findings of the review include rushed and last minute decision making, lack of resources and skills to deliver the new local plan, over reliance upon extensions to deadlines for routine planning decisions, and concerns over planning enforcement priorities.

The report also highlights a failure to undertake formal staff appraisals and provide feedback to staff, and governance concerns including the number of executive committee members also sitting on the planning committee (currently two).

The council has already implemented an action plan in response to the recommendations given but Cllr Newmark says he is “worried” by the report.

He said: “This report has lifted the curtain on multiple and systemic problems. In addition to the cost of the report itself, £90,000 of taxpayers money has had to be urgently allocated to implementing just one of the 48 recommendations.

“Coming on the back of last year’s audit report on governance of council owned assets including Elstree Studios, a picture is emerging of failed leadership and poor governance.

“It's a matter of record that opposition councillors have, for the past eighteen months, consistently highlighted some of the problems identified in this report, such as the backlog of development decisions and last minute determinations. Those concerns were brushed aside.

“I’m worried that the problems revealed by the report - and the work required to address them - will delay the timeline set out for completion of the new local plan.” (a document which outlines where thousands of homes will be built in Hertsmere over the next 15 years.)

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Cllr Jeremy Newmark, Hertsmere Labour group leader

Sajida Bijle, interim managing director at Hertsmere Borough Council, said: "We invited the EELGA to undertake an external review of our planning department last year as part of our ongoing aspiration to deliver an excellent service for our residents and businesses.

"The report identified a number of opportunities to deliver improved outcomes and made a series of recommendations.

"We are working on those recommendations through a detailed action plan. In addition, an external consultant has been appointed to support the implementation of this plan.

"As part of that plan, £90,000 has been set aside – which is money derived from planning application fees – to deliver a number of service improvements, including tackling the backlog of applications. However, we anticipate the actual cost to be significantly under this amount.

"Our planning service currently represents value for money but we are committed to providing an even better service which effectively and efficiently meets the changing needs of our borough now and into the future."

A summary of the report can be found here.