Skills gap blamed for service failure

Skills shortages in design and development control are having a major impact on the provision of planning services, according to a report this week.

A detailed analysis commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA), the ODPM and the Employers Organisation, found overall shortages across the profession.

It warns that design specialists and "a general discipline skill in development control" are in particularly short supply. Other shortages in management, development, local planning, spatial planning and regeneration and renewal may also be having an impact, it suggests.

The report identifies staff shortages across the country among both graduate and experienced personnel. All authority types and regions face difficulty recruiting planning officers and the problem has worsened in the past 12 months, it confirms.

The report demands higher pay for planners to alleviate the problem. It also calls on the government to extend its planning bursary scheme to cover undergraduate courses and to divert funding into niche areas such as urban design and transport.

Local authorities should work with neighbouring councils to share staff and resources and develop more proactive links with planning schools, it advises. There should be more targeted use of the planning delivery grant for initial and mid-career grade training, it adds.

The RTPI agreed that issues such as pay, workload and support need to be tackled. President Mike Hayes said: "There are too few planners to sustain the pace of change that is required. Financial rewards are insufficient to retain experienced staff or attract newcomers."

The research, carried out by the school of planning at Oxford Brookes University, is based on a survey of all local authorities in England and focus groups with planning schools. It is the second phase of a planning skills study, following a literature review published earlier this year (Planning, 11 June, p3).

Skills Base in the Planning System: Survey Results is available, priced £20, from the LGA (tel) 020 7664 3131.

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