Planning issues are highlighted

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An internal audit has uncovered ‘significant issues’ in the planning process at Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council since it took over the reins.

Planning powers have been with the local council for more than a year now and a recent audit has uncovered a number of failings.

Around 40 percent of planning applications reviewed did not meet the processing target of 15 weeks for local applications and 30 weeks for major applications.

The audit noted that the lack of adequate staff resources during the year contributed to the delayed processing rates noted. In total the auditor has made 19 recommendations.

It noted ‘significant issues’ around the lack of planning officer checks on planning fees received.

According to the Internal Audit, some supervisory checks on planning fees were not completed and 100% check on fee-exempt applications were not made.

“The lack of oversight on fees received increases the risk of error and loss of income,” the auditor stated.

There appeared to be ambiguity over roles and responsibilities in relation to the processing of appeals and recording of key dates on the Planning Portal between the administrative team and the Planners resulting in a number of appeals not being recorded on the appeals spreadsheet.

There also appeared to be inaccuracies in recording information on the Planning Portal and the spreadsheet.

“The review identified a lack of segregation of duties over the processing of refunds as the same person prepares the refund paper work, requests the cheques from finance and processes and issues the refund,” said the audit adding that this could lead to an increased risk of fraud.

Prior to the reorganisation of local government, council had little control other than a rubber stamp and query role.

In 2015 the full council took charge.

Council are to comment on the planning issues next week.