Councils abandon planning merger

Two North East councils have ditched plans to merge their planning teams after a feasibility study found that the move could raise costs and damage services.

Hartlepool and Darlington Borough Councils considered a joint management structure for their planning teams as part of a broader efficiency savings plan.

The plan proposed that one set of services could be delivered across both authorities under a single management structure. One manager would have been responsible for the planning service across both councils.

However, the councils will omit planning - as well as regeneration, housing and regulation - from the proposals after scrutinising a feasibility report into the plans.

A joint statement from the two authorities said: "Planning and regeneration teams were included as part of an initial report which explored the potential for sharing services. This early work showed there were limited opportunities for meaningful benefits or savings and there are no plans at this time to merge these two teams."

The feasibility study raised various concerns about the merger, including the possibility of extra costs in "harmonising structures, cultures, processes and policies".

A spokesman for the Planning Officers Society said there has been an increasing trend for councils to merge planning departments as they battle with budget cuts.

"There are benefits and there are pitfalls," he said. "You need to be aware of both and move forward very carefully."

£18,000 - Estimated maximum extra annual cost of merging the two councils' planning and associated services.

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