Aiming to stop ‘tit for tat’ complaints in Worthing

EDUCATION and a ranking system could help to reduce the amount of money spent investigating planning complaints.

At a meeting of Adur and Worthing’s joint planning committee, members approved a new timetable for dealing with complaints.

James Appleton, executive head of planning, regeneration and well-being, said: “It is good practice to prioritise complaints and, if it is a serious complaint, we do investigate as quickly as possible.”

Members on the committee questioned why complaints were not already being prioritised.

“I was quite surprised to see we don’t do this already,” said Worthing councillor Steve Waight.

“It would seem quite logical and to be common sense to prioritise more serious complaints.”

Mr Appleton said, in practice, the council did prioritise but the new guidelines set out clearer timetables.

“It is not really changing how we do things but it is trying to be a bit clearer to the public about what we do,” he said.

In 2009, there were 446 enforcement enquiries in Worthing and 237 in Adur.

Mr Appleton said one of the problems with the current rules was they required all complaints to be inspected on site within five working days.

“This has proved unrealistic in view of the number of complaints received and there has been no prioritisation of different types of complaint,” he said.

Another problem was “tit for tat” complaints.

These normally involved one neighbour receiving a complaint against them and proceeding to lodge complaints against 20 of their neighbours for perceived offences.

Worthing councillor Hazel Thorpe, sitting on the committee, suggested a different approach to reducing complaints.

“When I was reading through the report it crossed my mind that there was maybe an alternative way of looking at this in terms of education,” she said.

“I was wondering if we could go down the route of minimising complaints, possibly through giving more information.

“Maybe we could use the Ask the Chancellor, we could bring this issue up as we did some years ago with graffiti.

“We showed the public just how much graffiti was costing us.

“If we could show the public just how much is spent on following up complaints, which maybe aren’t necessary, we might reduce them.”

Mr Appleton said information about planning rules and enforcement was available on the council website but it probably needed to be more obvious.

The new guidelines set out three types of complaint: high priority, a site visit will normally be made within 24 hours; medium priority, a site visit will normally be made within five working days; and low priority, a site visit will normally be made within 10 working days.

Led by chairman Pat Beresford, the committee agreed to approve the new guidelines, subject to a review in 12 months’ time.