Councils across Hertfordshire are looking at whether artificial intelligence could be used to speed-up the planning process.

Whether it’s to build a new home, extend a current home or develop business premises, applicants need the permission of their local council.

But with a national shortage of planners, there have been concerns that that process could be quicker.

Now – through the Hertfordshire Growth Board – council officers have been working together, on a project designed to make the planning system more efficient.

That has already included a focus on ways to improve the recruitment and retention of planning officers – such as apprenticeships and mentoring, as well as a county-wide symposium.

And improvements have been made to the information available on planning web-pages, in a bid to reduce the number of submitted applications that are ‘invalid’.

Now in the latest stage of the project, it has emerged that the focus has shifted to look at whether councils could use ‘AI auto-validator tools’.

And commenting on the ongoing work a spokesperson for the Hertfordshire Growth Board told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The next stage is to consider whether there is scope for shared services through IT.

“The focus at the moment is on AI auto-validator tools, which would reduce the need for validation officers.

“The ambition is to create more capacity within planning teams, so that applications can be determined as quickly as possible, whether they be small home-improvement projects benefiting local residents all the way through to major new housing sites.”

The project is being spearheaded by the ‘planning resilience working group’, which brings together officers from local government, further education and the private sector.

The group was set up in recognition of the difficulties in recruiting and retaining planners within the county, with a focus is on joint working, recruitment, career promotion and progression.

And its work was highlighted to the latest meeting of the Hertfordshire Growth Board, as part of the board’s ‘2022-23 progress report’.

According to that draft report ‘notable progress’ has been made to improve efficiency and to reduce the number of invalid planning applications. And it says the focus will turn to ‘the potential for shared IT’.

Following the meeting a spokesperson for the Board said: “The planning resilience project has been prompted by a county-wide recognition that growth is an important issue, but that there are often vacancies in planning terms to prepare local plans and determine planning applications.

“It has therefore looked at various ways of improving recruitment and retention, in partnership with the University of Hertfordshire, local colleges, landowners and developers.

“Actions include: a planning symposium for all planning officers in Hertfordshire, attending careers fairs, apprenticeships, a mentoring scheme and a career development framework.”

The draft progress report was presented to a meeting of Hertfordshire Growth Board on Wednesday (January 17).