Minister: Improvements At Planning Department

December 18, 2013

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy — who recently assumed responsibility for planning following last week’s Cabinet shuffle — spoke today [Dec 18] in the Senate about  progress being made within the Department of Planning.

The Minister said that the Department was taking steps to review its practices so as to ensure rapid action on applications for planning permission and building permit approval and a swift response to building inspection requests.

“Prompt action by the Department enables construction projects to commence and progress in a timely manner and this assists with our economic recovery,” said Minister Fahy.

“I’m pleased to report that, while the Department’s review of its practices continues, the implementation of some new systems – beginning in August – is proving beneficial already.

“In 2012 the average time taken to determine a planning application was 12.7 weeks. In the period from August to November this year, the average processing time dropped to 6.5 weeks. In this same period, 49% of applications were processed in 12 weeks. That’s up from 40% in 12 weeks last year.”

Minister Fahy’s full statement follows below:

Madam President, I’m pleased today to provide the Senate with a progress report on the Department of Planning.

The mission of the Department of Planning is to responsibly serve the people of Bermuda to ensure the sustainable management of the natural and built environment. This means balancing development needs with conservation. It also means having in place building codes and an inspections process that secures the safety and welfare of the public.

Madam President, in July of this year, it was reported in the House of Assembly that the Department of Planning was taking steps to review its practices so as to ensure rapid action on applications for planning permission and building permit approval and a swift response to building inspection requests.

Prompt action by the Department enables construction projects to commence and progress in a timely manner and this assists with our economic recovery.

Madam President, I’m pleased to report that, while the Department’s review of its practices continues, the implementation of some new systems – beginning in August – is proving beneficial already.

In 2012 the average time taken to determine a planning application was 12.7 weeks. In the period from August to November this year, the average processing time dropped to 6.5 weeks. In this same period, 49% of applications were processed in 12 weeks. That’s up from 40% in 12 weeks last year.

The improvement in the processing times of the minor works projects that are intended to be ‘fast-tracked’ as Permitted Development Permits (or PDPs) is evident as well. Last year, the average time taken to determine a PDP was 4 weeks. In the period August to November 2013 that time was reduced to 1.6 weeks and, for the month of November, reached as low as 4.9 days. Compared with 2012, when only 24% of minor works projects were determined in 18 days, during November this year a full 100% of minor works projects were granted permit approval within 18 days.

The Department’s average response time to building and electrical inspection requests remains impressive at less than one day.

Also, planning searches, which provide crucial information on the status of properties for sale, experienced improved response times as well. The average time taken to complete a search has fallen from 23 days in 2012 to 15 days during that August to November period. For the month of November alone, the searches were completed in just eight days.

Madam President, we recognise there is room for improvement still and, having implemented some changes since August, technical officers are now beginning to put in place a new system for the submission of applications.

Madam President, for the past several months, as part of its review of practices and procedures, the Department has examined where delays occur in the application process. Technical officers identified three areas of concern that needed to be addressed.

The first was consultations. The process of planning and building a development can involve consultation with a variety of other organisations or government agencies and those consultations take time. However, Planning has sought and obtained agreement with its consultees that the turnaround time for comments will be a maximum of 21 days (three weeks). This could not happen without their help and cooperation.

The second area of concern was the monitoring of caseloads. Each technical officer has a caseload of files for which he or she is responsible. It is imperative that the Departmental staff monitor all their files so that they are constantly aware of those which require site visits, are awaiting consultee comments, may require revisions from an architect or are ready to be presented to the Development Applications Board or signed off for a building permit.

The performance reports are in place to facilitate this aspect of the technical officers’ work, and regular meetings are established to ensure diligent monitoring of caseloads.

Finally, a third area of concern was the quality of the applications submitted to the Department. Too often, applications have inaccurate or incomplete information, the plans are illegible or the nature of the development is unclear. Technical officers can spend a lot of time ‘fixing’ these sub-standard applications. That means they are not spending time processing applications which are complete and could lead to actual construction.

Therefore, beginning in December, the Department of Planning will stop accepting applications that are incomplete and/or of poor quality. Technical officers will vet the applications received every day and, within 24 hours, architects will know whether additional information is needed. If more information is needed, it is expected the architect will collect the plans, address what is missing and return the proposal to the Department.

While that is happening, technical officers will move on with processing applications that are properly complete.

Already, for minor works projects, the Department simply stopped accepting incomplete applications in August and the improvement in processing times – from 4 weeks to 4.9 days – is irrefutable. Extending this throughout the entire applications process, while more challenging, can be just as beneficial.

Madam President, the performance measures I highlighted earlier demonstrate that addressing these areas of concern can have an immediate and positive impact. The Department is to be commended for seeking out these improvements.

Implementing change by targeting all three areas of concern at the same time will result in faster processing times, better quality applications and increased responsiveness on the part of the Department.

Madam President, I take this opportunity to to thank former Environment Minister, Sylvan Richards for moving this process forward during his tenure.

Notwithstanding that I assumed responsibility for the Department of Planning within the past week, I have already commenced discussions with the Director of Planning on further improvements and possible legislative changes. I am keen to build on the work that has already been done to also include greater enforcement in respect of development that is undertaken without planning approval.

Madam President, the Government made a platform commitment to streamline planning processes. We have done this and will continue to do so. Taking the step of accepting only complete application submissions is quite a departure for the Department of Planning. However, we can no longer utilise a system that creates and then fosters delays. The economic activity generated by building projects is too important. Even with this change, we will retain the ability to balance development needs with conservation ideals – and this is good for Bermuda.

Thank you, Madam President.

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Comments (5)

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  1. San George says:

    Now this is a government department that needs a good SAGE’ing. Way over staffed in an environment of excess commercial and residential capacity.

  2. Triangle Drifter says:

    How many times over the decades have we seen that headline??? Have the Planning Department horror stories decreased any?

  3. Freedom says:

    I am very pleased to see these steps been taken, as I am in the Industry. Please inform us when you have printed the Commercial Building Code book, as the last time I checked, earlier this year, there wasn’t a definite source relevant to Bermuda.

    Kind regards,

  4. wondering says:

    This same principle needs to be applied in the Department of Immigration. The administrative processes are in some cases reminiscent of the 1970/80s and the leadership styles are VERY autocratic despite operating in a modern framework.

    Here are a few examples of the Stone Age approach to administration:

    Very paper based (I guess the answer is because you need to “verify” the authenticity of a document). Most other jurisdictions have moved towards more accessibility to online forms with increased functionality.

    No continuity in process or decision. Each case is dealt with individually but case studies will prove that typical cases should be approached in typical fashion by all officers or inspectors or whatever they want to be called.

    Leaders are very do as I say not as I do. There is one who has an earpiece all the time who has definitely been there too long. Over inflated egos for a job that requires constant training and policy upgrading.

    Leaders do not listen due to their “high horse” attitude of “Um bin hur all this time and made this department what it is – but none much of it if any at all is written policy that is available readily nor is it supported by Legislation.

    Bravo Min. Fahey for trying to MODERNISE this department also – Planning and Immigration respectively

    I know there may be some fallout from this little post but I could write a policy paper on the revamp that the CIO – Dr. Ming would probably like to get her hands on and implement.

    “Implementation” is another poor area. Policies are always evolving but the dissemination of information is akin to a schoolyard where it is delivered via a whisper here and a whisper there but no collective or centralized method of delivering changes that the staff may effectively put into action.

    New policy in some cases means remind/revise/re-train……………

  5. more than enough says:

    it would appear that the lions share of this work was done by minister richards…why did they get rid of him again?