Question 12/21

Question:

As Leader of the Council are you aware of the problems within the Planning Department that are a cause for real concern?  I would appreciate a comment on what is being done to rectify the situation. (29/06/2021)

Answer:

As you will appreciate this is not the service that my staff and I want to offer customers and members of the public, but there are a number of mitigating reasons why we have got to this point.

  • Covid and working from home (IT issues & officer wellbeing issues) all add to reducing capacity.
  • Long term sickness.
  • A number of vacancies in the Department both historically and currently (we have currently a number of vacancies either out or about to go out to advert and it’s worth noting there is a national shortage of planners and recruitment is extremely difficult).
  • Workload has increased significantly in the last 6 months despite Covid.  We are receiving up to 60 applications a week which is well above our existing validation capacity.
  • The service has been subject to a 5 month long service review – the final report has just been submitted to the Council for consideration. The outcomes are yet to be finalised but is likely to recommend changes in processes and work streams at the very least.  It is worth noting that work relating to the review has also had an unfortunate impact on officer capacity.

To try and resolve the current backlog of work (work load is reported to planning committee on a quarterly basis) we have recently procured a company (Capita) to give the Department temporary resources for a 6 month period and will include reallocating some existing cases and allocating new applications to this extra resource. This was originally for Development Management officers only, but has been extended to include Business Support officers for validation purposes.  This resource started coming “on stream” a few weeks ago.

While I appreciate that this does not resolve the issues you raise or indeed it’s what you want to hear, but I hope you realise that my staff are doing their best to process applications as quickly as possible at this difficult time.

I therefore apologise for the delay in determining your application. (30/06/2021)