'Incredibly stretched' council planning team seeks £140k temporary staff boost

A Somerset council which describes its planning department as 'incredibly stretched' and says its officers face the highest workload in the South West is set to approve a £140,000 injection of resources to pay for temporary staff.

Bridgwater House, headquarters of Sedgemoor District Council. Pic: Sedgemoor District Council
Bridgwater House, headquarters of Sedgemoor District Council. Pic: Sedgemoor District Council

In a report to Sedgemoor District Council’s executive next week, chief planner Claire Pearce says that an increase in capacity is needed following the adoption of the council’s local plan in February.

She said that staffing issues are currently affecting capacity and service delivery in the planning department.

The report said: "The service is incredibly stretched, with some posts and work for external paying customers not being fully covered, and with a lack of resilience.

"Four posts are currently out to advert, and these together with the proposed agency resources will be required to service the caseload over the next year."

Pearce’s report recommends that the executive approves £140,000 to pay for temporary staff, to deal with what she described as a "peak in caseload".

Following the adoption of the plan, she said, the council has a programme of work, with many of the sites allocated already subject to planning applications.

Pearce said that the council’s approach to date has been to absorb new duties without seeking extra funding.

Recently, however, she said that the council has brought in temporary staff on an ad hoc basis to tackle a backlog in cases, deal with tasks relating to the Hinkley Point C power project, and to progress an enforcement and compliance review of tourism sites

However, she said that caseload per officer is currently at 277.5 planning applications per planning officer, which she said is the highest of all authorities in the South West of England.

Pearce said the proposed extra spending on temporary staff is less than the £266,000 surplus on last year’s planning budget.

Councillors will consider the proposal at a meeting on Wednesday.

In March, housing minister Kit Malthouse suggested that councils could have to share senior staff in an attempt to tackle a growing skills shortage and lack of resources in public sector planning.

A Planning survey and report examining local authority planning team resources can be found here.

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