ENews Issue - 28 February 2007

ENews - February 2007

TRA ENews is the monthly newsletter of Trevor Roberts Associates. It provides information about TRA generally, its staff and Associates, current and forthcoming events, new training courses and consultancy services etc.

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TRA is well known for its full-scale reviews of development control services and development of online DC procedure guides. However, you may not be aware that we can also offer much smaller scale reviews focusing on individual elements of the planning/DC function.

These are ideal if you are happy with the performance of your DC service overall but feel that one particular area could be improved. For example, this could be front-end procedures (receipt, registration, validation); or maybe the quality of delegated and committee reports or Committee procedures; or possibly even the general management of the department and staff resources. These focused reviews are also a good option if you would like to review the service as a whole but are struggling with budget constraints, giving you the opportunity to tackle problem areas one at a time.

A number of our clients have been able to allocate some of their Planning Delivery Grant to this kind of review. The government's expectation is that "LPAs should use PDG to continue to invest in systems that will improve the efficiency and delivery of their planning services." Commissioning a focused review by outside experts, aimed at increasing effectiveness and efficiency through changes to procedures and organisation, would appear to be both a forward-looking and cost-effective way to invest this funding.

Brief details of some of the focused reviews which TRA can undertake are given on our website. If you would like to discuss things further, without obligation, please feel free to contact Penny O'Shea.


Both the Barker Review and the recent DCLG document on the role of councillors in planning have advocated that training be made compulsory for councillors on planning committees. The RTPI has supported this, and recently criticised the Local Government White Paper for not supporting the idea.

Since TRA has more experience than anyone else in the UK of training councillors involved in planning, we felt that we should also make our views known. You may have seen our letter published in last week's Planning.These are the observations of our highly experienced Councillor training team:

  1. Where training of any kind is made compulsory, there can be resistance from participants which mars the experience for everyone. However, this has only been a problem for us in a few authorities just after it was made compulsory, and a few old established committee members regarded it as a bit insulting (we soon won them round!).
  2. The legitimacy of councillors is the fact that they chuck their hats into the field and are elected, usually after a lot of hard work. To qualify their ability to function as councillors by compulsory training confuses two quite distinct issues - electoral accountability and technical competence.
  3. We have encountered a few authorities where there is such a track record of poor decision making by the planning committee that compulsory training is necessary to rectify a specific problem or to protect the authority itself against a charge of complacency - but this is rare.
  4. Crucially, whether or not such training should be compulsory, as it is already in many places, is something authorities can and should determine for themselves. Centralised prescription would be a serious blow to training effectiveness and would only serve to confirm the view of many councillors that they have little or no discretion when it comes to operating the planning system.


We recently carried out a survey of students who have attended one or more modules on the TRA/Cambridge University Certificated Course in Management Concepts & Skills in Planning. We'd like to thank all those who took the time to complete our short questionnaire - your feedback was extremely useful. All returned questionnaires were entered into a draw and the winner of a free workshop place of his choice was Alan Southerby, Head of Development at Braintree DC.

The purpose of the survey was two-fold: firstly, it formed part of our ongoing quality control procedures, and secondly, we were interested to catch up with students and see how they have progressed as a result of attending the course.

When asked about the benefits of having attended the course:

  • 93% of those who completed the survey said that they are better able to carry out their day-to-day work
  • 68% said they have more self-confidence/greater self-esteem
  • 61% said they have a desire to learn more about the subject (ie management), and
  • 53% said they have more enthusiasm for their job (well, we can't work miracles!).

When rated from 1 to 5 (with 5 being high), average scores for various characteristics of the course came out at:

  • 4.6 for "directly applicable to my job"
  • 4.7 for "useful to me in my career"
  • 4.7 for "challenging/stimulating", and
  • 4.2 for "value for money".

100% of the students who completed the survey said that they would recommend the certificated course to others, and we know that many already have.

One of the key characteristics of the course which is often overlooked is value for money, especially when compared to other management training on offer. When broken down, the cost equates to around £200 per day, for which you get small-group expert tuition; content which is specifically tailored to the planning and development field; in-depth consideration of issues which is just not possible on a one-day course; assessment of project work both by TRA and the University of Cambridge; support from your Tutor and TRA staff throughout; and hopefully at the end of it all a qualification from a University of international standing.

If you would like to know more about the certificated management course, please take at look at our website and/or feel free to contact Shelagh Pooley.


TRA regularly responds to government consultations which relate to issues where we have experience. The latest example is our recent response to the proposed new Model Code of Conduct. As the market leaders in providing training for Councillors involved in planning, focusing in many cases on the probity/propriety dimension, we are ideally placed to comment on the Code and any difficulties we foresee in Councillors' understanding of it.

In our response, we focused our comments especially on declarations of personal and prejudicial interests, where we feel that elements in the proposals could cause a lot of confusion and indeed serious problems for Planning Committees making decisions on planning applications etc.

Please click here to see our comments in full.


A real mixed bag this month.

Congratulations to Russell Gadbury - Blyth Valley BC (previously at Gateshead), who received his Masters in Town Planning with merit from Newcastle Univeristy in December. Russell received the Certificate in Planning Enforcement in June 2005.

Congratulations also to proud new parents:

  • Ali Blackett (Wear Valley DC) - son, Oliver George, born on 23 November
  • Raymond Lafferty-Brennan (Cambs CC) - daughter, Orlagh, born on New Year's Eve
  • Neil Langley (Great Yarmouth BC) - daughter, Freya Poppy, born on 6 January
  • Liz Humby (East Herts DC) and Richard Aston (Welwyn Hatfield DC) - son, Alfie, born on 2 February.

James Cooke (South Gloucestershire) is taking part in the London Marathon on 22 April, raising money for the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) in honour of his football team mate, Duncan Mulholland, who died from a heart attack aged just 23. James is hoping to raise £1500 for the charity and any support would be massively appreciated. Please contact James at James.Cooke@Southglos.gov.uk for more information.


TRA has been organising conferences on aspects of planning law in association with PEBA (the Planning and Environment Bar Association) for a number of years. The latest event in the series is taking place in London on 19 April and will focus on the thorny issue of the control of advertisements.

There are many grey areas surrounding the control of advertising and various loopholes in the legislation, which make it both difficult and controversial. The Government has had the Regulations under review for several years and has recently consulted on a number of proposed changes. This event is therefore particularly timely.

An excellent panel of speakers from a variety of backgrounds has agreed to take part in the event, including three barristers, a representative from the DCLG, an Advertisment Appeals Inspector, someone with experience of using ASBOs to control flyposting, and a representative from the commercial sector.

The event is accredited for CPD purposes by the Bar Council, the Law Society and the Institute of Legal Executives. Further details can be viewed here and bookings are invited.


If you've missed a recent issue of ENews or have only just subscribed to the newsletter then don't forget that previous issues of the TRA monthly newsletter can be accessed via our website. Just visit the Newsletter Archives page to catch up.


TRA has been providing training for those involved in Local Plan Inquiries for many years. In response to the new arrangements we are currently developing a brand new one-day course in association with the Planning Inspectorate for planning officers involved in LDF Examinations.

The day will explore the processes involved at Examinations, the new tests of 'soundness' that the Inspector must consider, and the roles of the different participants. The workshop will include a detailed look at the role of the planning officer and how to deal with questions and advocacy under the new system and will outline what the Inspector does both at the Examination and after the Examination has finished.

The session will also offer participants an opportunity to take part in a mock Examination, which will help to illustrate the points learnt earlier in the session.

It is anticipated that this course will be available shortly on both an inter-authority basis at venues around the country and on an in-house basis for individual authorities (or groups of authorities). Further details will be available shortly. If you would like to receive details once they are finalised please contact Suzanne Waldram.


TRA has recently developed a brand new workshop specifically aimed at those working in Housing Associations.

Housing Associations have extensive contact with the town planning system. To ensure that their development programmes are implemented effectively and expeditiously, they need a good grasp of the planning system - how it operates, the opportunities it presents, and its limitations.

Content of the new workshop will include an overview of the planning system; the importance of planning policy; how development applications are handled; s106 agreements; and appeals.

The workshop will be delivered by Lee Prebble and Rachel Bland. It will run in a number of venues throughout the UK this year. Dates will be announced shortly. Please let us know if you would be interested in receiving further information.


Details are now available of the latest TRA Conference for Planning Support Staff taking place in London on Thursday 26 April 2007.

This event has been extremely popular in recent years and early booking is strongly recommended.

Publicity leaflets will be circulated to our usual mailing contacts shortly. In the meantime, details of speakers and topics can be found on our website or you can download a PDF leaflet/booking form here.


Trevor Roberts Associates

1 Atlas House, St. Georges Square,

Bolton, BL1 2HB,

United Kingdom Tel: (01204) 385678 Fax: (01204) 386376 Email: mail@tra-ltd.co.uk Website: http://www.tra-ltd.co.uk/


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