ENews Issue - 12 April 2008

ENews - April 2008

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 was recently commissioned by RTPI Cymru to deliver a training workshop on negotiating planning agreements in a number of locations across Wales. The training initiative was funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and a particular aim was to enable LPAs to secure more affordable housing through planning agreements in line with its commitment to substantially increase the provision of affordable housing for the people of Wales.

A two-day workshop was developed and subsequently delivered in four locations over a period of a month: Abergavenny, St Asaph, Cardiff and Carmarthen. Representatives from all 25 local planning authorities attended the workshop including staff from both planning and housing departments.

Feedback on the training was extremely positive. Nia Jones, Team Leader at the Isle of Anglesey Cou ncil said "I have to say it was one of the most practical and useful courses I have been on for a long time". Other comments included:

  • "Very good presentations of a subject which planners need to be up to speed on"
  • "Very interesting and learnt a lot I can apply in the workplace"
  • "The course has been very helpful and I look forward to putting what I have learnt into practice"
  • "A very useful round-up of planning obligations and negiation techniques".

The workshop was delivered by Trevor Roberts and Senior Associate Lee Prebble and extremely useful additional input on the "developer's perspective" was provided at each session by an external speaker.

TRA delivered a similar workshop for local authorities in Scotland back in 2006, supported by the Improvement Service. If you might be interested in running a similar training event in your area please feel free to contact Suzanne Waldram for a no-obligation discussion.


Since June 2007, TRA has been delivering a series of training events on behalf of the Surrey Planning Officers' Association (SPOA).

The training events have been attended by staff from across the county and authorities have taken it in turn to host the events. The most recent event was a one-day workshop on Personal Effectiveness and Time Management held in February and hosted by Spelthorne BC. Amongst the participants were several staff from Mole Valley DC. Clive Smith, Head of Planning at Mole Valley said that the nominees from his department "thought that the course was really excellent and they would like their sincere thanks and appreciation passed on to all the parties concerned".

Other sessions delivered so far as part of the series have included:

  • Supporting the Development Contro l Function
  • Negotiation Concepts and Skills
  • Permitted Development
  • An Introduction to the Appeals Process
  • Planning Enforcement
  • and two 1-day workshops for Councillors involved in planning.

Further sessions are planned for later in the year.

TRA provides a significant amount of training on an in-house basis and has delivered similar programmes of events for other county/regional groups. This sort of collaboration is a particularly convenient and cost-effective way of organising training events. Details are available on our website of:

  • in-house training in development control
  • in-house training for planning support staff
  • in-house training for inquiries/examinations.

For further information or to discuss your training requirements, please contact Suzanne Waldram.


Teams involved in the planning and construction process at Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) came together recently to examine the service they provide and to explore potential improvements. HCC commissioned TRA to facilitate a workshop for members of the various teams involved, including representatives of two partner consultancies, Mouchel and Mace, who are engaged in the feasibility, design and construction stages of site developments.

Officers from the three County Council teams involved and representatives from the two consultancies worked closely together under the guidance of TRA's consultants to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the service they jointly provide and to identify and agree ways of i mproving service delivery. These included identifying and strengthening key processes and working on improved communications and more robust inter-team working arrangements.

TRA consultants Trevor Atkinson and Chris Weetman worked with participants using a tailored programme of presentations, discussion and team working exercises. The workshop was highly interactive in order to promote the sharing of information, experiences and ideas among participants.

At the end of the workshop everyone was involved in an action planning session to agree and record what was to be done, and by whom. This provided all concerned with an ideal platform from which to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the service.

Jacqueline Nixon, Head of Development Services, said "The workshop certainly helped to build relationships, better understand what each team does and identify areas where we can work together more effectively." The participants were very complimentary about the workshop; comments expressed included "It was excellent", "surpassed expectations", helped break down barriers and understand roles and responsibilities" and "well facilitated".

If you would like to know more about our team development and other organisational development services, please visit our website. Alternatively you can contact Penny O'Shea for an informal discussion on the feasibility of developing a tailored service to suit your particular requirements.


The POS/TRA Development Management Practice Project has now completed its initial programme of meetings and has resulted in the production of five Best Practice Guidance Notes which can be downloaded from our website. The topics covered are:

  • Public Speaking in Planning Committees
  • Pre and Post Decision Amendments
  • Councillor involvement in pre-application discussions
  • Application Validation, Registration and Digital Records
  • Towards Proactive Enforcement

Additional guidance notes on Environmental Impact Assessment and s106 agreements are currently being prepared and will be available shortly.

We are pleased to report that it has now been agreed, following a successful first year, that this important action learning project should be commissioned for a second year. The next meeting will therefore take place in May 2008 and the project will run through until January 2009. The following have been identified as possible topics for future guidance notes:

  • PPS1 climate change implications & sustainable construction code level 3 conditions
  • A review of local validation lists after a period of settling down
  • Time recording, capacity planning and justifying costs
  • Access to information, Environmental Information Regulations & Freedom of Information
  • Planning Registers
  • S106 & Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations
  • Permitted Development Changes (if announced during the life of the project).
It is also hoped that before the project comes to an end there will be the opportunity to review and update the Guidance Notes already published.


TRA has recently completed a review of the DC service at Chester-le-Street District Council, followed by the development of an online DC Procedure Guide. The consultancy team for this latest assignment included Sue Glover, Philippa Jarvis and Trevor Roberts.

The unique online Procedure Guide system developed by TRA is now operational in more than 30 local authorities. The content of each Guide is bespoke to the individual authority, incorporating an optimum mixture of established local procedures and generally established good practice. The Guide is a system rather than a fixed document, accessible via a private internet site, enabling the authority's own staff to update it as appropriate at any time.

The development of the Guide is preceded by an in-depth review of all aspects of DC procedures, organisation and resources. The R eview element of the assignment is a vital part of the process and culminates in a written report with justified conclusions and key recommendations for change. These recommendations are extremely important and their implementation can have a significant impact on the quality, consistency and speed of development control performance.

Basic details of our DC Review and Procedure Guide service are available on our website. If you would like to know more please contact Penny O'Shea for further information and a no-obligation discussion.


The Academy for Sustainable Communities (ASC) has developed a toolkit of information about sustainable communities which they wish to promote to a wide variety of audiences. This is part of the ASC's remit to raise awareness of the sustainable communities agenda and to help develop the skills needed to deliver sustainable communities.

The pilot study will run between April and September this year and TRA has been provided with a license to use the train & sustain toolkit on behalf of the ASC during the study period. The ASC were looking for organisations experienced in organising and facilitating small workshops and TRA was therefore ideally placed to assist them .

The toolkit is a flexible electronic resource for trainers, intended to provide a good, basic understanding of the sustainable communities agenda to their chosen audience. Content from the toolkit will be incorporated into existing training events on sustainability offered by TRA including Sustainability and the Planning Process running in London on 22 May and in York on 23 October.

The ASC want to know whether the toolkit will work effectively and meet the needs of the sustainable communities sector. They also want to know whether the toolkit improves knowledge and meets the needs of individuals, both trainers & learners, and is appropriate to different kinds of organisations. We will be providing the ASC with feedback during the course of the pilot study and at an event to be held at their Headquarters, in Leeds, in September.

TRA is currently developing training material on a range of topics related to sustainable communities with a view to launching a series of workshops in the near future. In the meantime, if you are looking to provide some in-house training on sustainability related issues we may be able to help. Please feel free to contact Penny O'Shea with a basic idea of what you are looking for.


Planning support staff are a vital element of the planning service and to be fully effective they need to be properly trained. TRA has been providing training for support staff, in various formats, since 1990. In recent years, this has included a significant amount of in-house training, consisting of both off-the-peg and bespoke/tailored sessions.

The advantages of in-house training for the client authority can be considerable:

  • the per capita cost is usually much lower than sending several staff on external events
  • time away from work is kept to a minimum
  • training can be tailored to meet specific local requirements
  • the impact can be greater when groups of staff are involved in training together.

In terms of in-house training for support staff, we offer a range of topics to suit all experience levels. For more information on any of the courses available please contact Suzanne Waldram.

We are very happy to provide in-house training for a group of authorities (providing that a lead authority is nominated for admin purposes). This is particularly appropriate in areas where there are already regional officer groups in existence or where an individual authority doesn't have quite enough staff of its own to make an in-house session viable.

Recent in-house workshops include:

  • A bespoke session for Arun DC on Prior Notifications and the proposed changes to Householder PD

    Very well explained as always. I will take a lot away with me on the understanding of telecoms and the new permitted development proposals - Karen Garner

    "Class A" to use a GPDO term! Was reassuring to be able to prepare for the new PD order. All in clear English too! - James McLean Smith

  • Permitted Development, delivered for Crewe & Nantwich BC

    The GPDO seems less scary now and I will definitely find it easier to use it in the future when dealing with enquiries - Charlotte Martin

    Really enjoyed the practical examples. Handouts were very useful and I will continue to use them - Emma Warburton

If you are looking for training for individual members of staff there are also several "inter-authority" training options for planning support:

  • several 1-day inter-authority workshops run in England and Scotland
  • two annual conferences, one in London (29 April - places still available) and one in Manchester
  • the certificated course in Town Planning Support run in conjunction with Cambridge University.

For further details please see our website.


TRA is well-known for its training workshops for Councillors involved in planning. Over the years, several of our clients have extended the provision of this kind of training to their Town and Parish Councils and this has proved especially worthwhile.

District Councils which have commissioned TRA to deliver training specifically for their Town and Parish Councils include: Allerdale, Arun, Cherwell, Colchester, East Northants, East Lindsey, East Devon, North Kesteven and St Edmundsbury. Last Autumn we also delivered a session organised directly by a Town Council - Tiverton in Devon.

The most popular option for Town and Parishes is currently our half-day Briefing on Development Control. This covers the basics of DC and how Town and Parish Councillors fit into, and can engage with, the process plus a crucial look at material considerations and their significance. An outline programme is available on request.

Feedback from Councillors who have attended these sessions has been excellent:

  • Exceeded expectations and the presenters made an excellent job of explaining clearly a complex subject - a most helpful discussion. Cllr JR Storer, Welbourn Parish Council
  • This was most informative and worthwhile time spent. I will recommend this to the rest of our Council and look forward to the next session. Cllr Juneta Wilson, Chair of Billinghay Parish Council
  • Covered the subject very clearly - a brilliant afternoon.Cllr G Rymer, Spilsby Town Council
  • Didn't think that training on planning could be so enjoyable. Thank you. Cllr W Hart, Withern with Stain Parish Council

If you are interested in arranging similar training for Town and Parish Councils in your area or would simply like further information, please contact Suzanne Waldram.


Following the popularity of TRA's Workshop for Planning Committee Chairs & Planning Portfolio Holders, which ran twice in 2007 with maximum participant numbers and excellent feedback, we have organised two repeats of the workshop for 2008. The second one of these is due to take place in York on 5 & 6 June. Bookings are going well, but there are still some places available if you would like to attend.

The workshop looks at modern local authority structures and is aimed at the key players charged with making the structures work in the planning field, where policy development, scrutiny and other functions are separate. Authorities are tackling the issues in many different ways and the workshop provides an opportunity to compare approaches within the context of clear guidance on how l ocal authority structures relate to the framework of planning law and good practice.

To book places on the workshop, please complete and return a booking form. To reserve places provisionally please contact Shelagh Pooley or use our online provisional booking facility.


The recent PAS (Planning Advisory Service) publication on reviewing planning services - Finding the flow: re-engineering business processes for planning - noted that all planning authorities can suffer from a variety of inefficiencies, regardless of whether they are a standards authority, already regarded as high performing, or somewhere in between. Typical sources of inefficiency include:

  • not fully utilising existing IT systems
  • poor or non-existent management reporting
  • a mixture of electronic and paper based data
  • unreliable or missing data
  • lack of consistency, especially where the service is divided into area teams
  • inadequate understanding of processes and who they relate to and support one another
  • the absence of a manual detailing standard processes.

The PAS case-study document suggests that a review of the service can help the authority to overcome these issues. A s uccessful service review can, however, achieve much more than just improved performance. It can also result in:

  • a change in culture so that staff focus on delivering a good customer service as well as achieving targets
  • fewer complaints and an improved image of planning, both inside and outside the authority
  • savings through developing better processes
  • increased consistency in service delivery, which can mean fewer appeals
  • better value from the same resources
  • a boost to staff morale.

Many traditional management consultants offer BPR services but we believe that because of the complexities and statutory nature of the planning process, reviews of the service should ideally be carried out by qualified and practicing town planners. As specialists in providing support to LPAs, TRA has been providing a review service for many years. Our service also includes the provision of a procedure manual (in a convenient online format); something which we have always considered to be fundamental to ensuring an efficient and consistent service and which the PAS now recognises as "an essential step to introducing a more effective approach to managing applications".

TRA has undertaken reviews of DC/planning for more than 35 authorities. Our website has details of our Procedure Review and Guide service and a detailed brochure is also available on request. For any further information or for an informal discussion please contact Penny O'Shea.


Regeneration and development: the local authority practitioner's role is a brand new workshop developed by TRA and aimed at both officers and Councillors/community leaders who are involved or interested in regeneration and the redevelopment agenda.

In its Review of Sub Regional Economic Development and Regeneration (July 2007), the Government encouraged councils to take greater responsibility for, and have an increased involvement in, regeneration activity. As things stand, a local authority's role in the economic regeneration of its area can be vague, ad hoc or, in some cases, non-existent. There are several issues:

  • regeneration is often private sector led, without effective community leadership or involvement
  • even in authorities with dedicated regeneration/economic develoment teams, the approach may not necessarily be joined-up between the va rious functions of the authority
  • regeneration activity might not always reflect the needs or wants of the community, meaning that opportunities could be missed or the community may lose faith in its Council's ability to make things happen.

This workshop is aimed at practitioners from all the disciplines involved in regeneration (eg planning, property, housing, engineering, legal, environmental). Councillors and those involved in LSPs or Parish Councils etc are also encouraged to attend.

The main aim of the workshop is to demystify:

  • what regeneration is
  • how to engage in the agenda, and
  • how to kick start regeneration in your area if it isn't happening effectively, or maybe isn't happening at all.

The workshop has been developed and is being presented by Colin Walker, a practitioner with considerable experience of how Councils can manage scarce resources and work across boundaries to facilitate regeneration.

The workshop will take place on 17 June in London and 22 October in York.

If you would like to reserve a place on this workshop you can download a leaflet/booking form now. You can also reserve places provisionally by phone or using our online provisional bookings facility.


Details are now available for the latest 'Forum on Enforcement' due to take place in Warrington on 15 May 2008.

This is always a very popular event and early booking is recommended to avoid disappointment.

Publicity leaflets are currently being circulated by both e-mail and post to our usual mailing contacts. Details of price/venue etc are available on the website, where there is also a leaflet/booking form available to be downloaded in a pdf format.


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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