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FOCUS: Action pledge as scathing review calls for "radical improvements" at Planning

FOCUS: Action pledge as scathing review calls for

Friday 12 May 2023

FOCUS: Action pledge as scathing review calls for "radical improvements" at Planning

Friday 12 May 2023

An independent review of Jersey's "underperforming" Planning Department has called for "radical improvements" – condemning the department's "unfit for purpose" processes and "severely dysfunctional IT systems".

A total of 16 recommendations were made by the review's author Jim McKinnon CBE, a former Chief Planner to the Scottish Government – all of which have now been accepted by Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf.

In his review, Mr McKinnon found that the processes seeking planning permission are "seriously dysfunctional" and require "radical improvements".

He added that "far too much is expected of young and inexperienced staff lacking the technical knowledge to carry out work effectively" in the department.


Pictured: McKinnon slammed the process for those seeking planning permission as "seriously dysfunctional".

As a result, the Environment Minister has made introducing “efficient, effective, and sustainable processes for validating and registering planning applications” a top priority. 

It is unlikely Deputy Renouf was surprised by Mr McKinnon’s conclusions – the pressures facing the Planning Department, including the recruitment and retention of qualified officers – has long been known, and the pandemic only made it worse.

The intensity of building in Jersey – with the vast majority of development, from signage and change-of-use to major building projects – all requiring official permission, has also stretched Planning’s resources.

The department, which currently without a head, although a recruitment process is taking place, has consistently missed its own performance targets over the past five years.

Staff embarrassment

Despite identifying many strengths, including the democratic nature of the Planning Committee process, Mr McKinnon did not hold back, although neither did Planning staff when he met them as part of his review.

He noted: “It was acknowledged the public image of the Planning Service was not positive and staff were very supportive of the review if the recommendations would result in actions leading to service improvements. 

“More experienced staff pointed out that they knew what a good service looked like and the gap between the current service and one that met staff and customer expectations was increasingly widening, much to their embarrassment.”

"Profoundly broken" IT systems

“The IT systems came in for universal criticism,” Mr McKinnon said, branding the system as "unstable", "unwieldy", "not fit for purpose", "terrible" and "well-nigh impenetrable" to external users.

"Sense of detachment"

The review described the lack of a manned reception desk for the Planning Service as a "major surprise" which also "came in for strong criticism".

Mr McKinnon said that "the absence of a welcoming presence reinforces the sense of detachment of the Planning Service and exacerbates the difficulties in contacting planners, for example to have an informal discussion about a planning application or a potential breach of planning controls".

"Customer service is not at the level or quality it should be," he concluded.


Pictured: Mr McKinnon condemned the level of customer service in the department.

Despite his critical observations, Mr McKinnon ended his review on an optimistic note: “Through flexible, agile, and responsive development control practices the Planning Service has the undoubted potential to shape Jersey as an outstanding place to live and work,” he said.

“Significant challenges lie ahead but with strong leadership and commitment from politicians and civil servants it can be achieved.”

"I want to focus on the future"

In response to the review, Deputy Renouf said: “There are always tensions between the need for more housing and policies designed to protect the environment. 

“However, quite separate from these normal tensions, the island has the right to expect a planning service that is efficient, consistent and delivering high standards of customer service. 


Pictured: Environment Minister, Deputy Jonathon Renouf admitted that the Planning Department is "falling short".

“Currently we are falling short. There are a variety of reasons for this, but rather than focus on the past, I want to focus on the future. In order to drive change fast and effectively, I decided that an outside review - conducted by someone with considerable knowledge and experience of planning services - would offer a quick route to improvement. 

“I’d like to reassure islanders and staff working within Planning services that a series of actions is being progressed, some with immediate effect, to deliver a real change and ensure we are delivering the best service possible.”

An "action plan" for improvement

His action plan includes: 

  • The technical support team will take on agency staff on for six months to help clear the backlog of applications;
  • The existing Planning computer system is two decades old but a new one, called Project RIDA, will be introduced in the first quarter of next year;
  • He will also publish a new set of Key Performance Indicators by the end of September;
  • Islanders will be able to book appointments will a Planning ‘duty officer’ at Philip Le Feuvre House in La Motte Street for pre-application advice. This was stopped when the pandemic hit but will be reintroduced;
  • The Minister will draw up a ‘Concordat’ – or formal agreement – with developers and designers, which clearly sets out what his overarching objectives are and how they can be achieved through ‘priorities, performance management and reporting’;
  • He will also introduce a ‘Customer Service Charter’ which includes performance targets and service level agreements across the planning service;
  • A new Industry Partnership Board will be set up as a forum for Planning to meet with industry to improve relationships and discuss key issues.

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Posted by Keith Marsh on
and we really had to have, probably a costly review, to tell us what we have known for years. This Government just loves to spend OUR MONEY getting people to tell them what they already know. It is time Ministers WOKE UP.
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