MPs press for skills body to fight crisis

A sector skills council for planners should be set up to redress a decade of failure in tackling staff shortages, MPs urged this week.

In a hard-hitting report on its investigation of the sector, the Commons communities and local government committee calls for a single agency to be established to plug skills gaps. The MPs want the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to carry this out, along with a study of salary levels.

The Academy for Sustainable Communities (ASC), which will become part of the HCA, receives a mixed report on its achievements. The DCLG is asked to publish an impact assessment of the ASC's first three years' work after the body reached only three per cent of relevant professionals at a cost of more than £13 million.

The report also calls on the government to use ASC data on sector shortages to produce an action plan to improve the situation. The academy's chief executive Gill Taylor said it will launch a skills action plan at a ministerial summit in October.

The report continues: "The shortage of planners was identified as long ago as the late 1990s, but has been allowed to continue to worsen." It warns that there is significant risk that the planning system will not be able cope with building three million homes by 2020.

The committee also pushed ministers to make the chief planning officer a statutorily protected senior local government official.

RTPI director of education and lifelong learning Sue Percy said many councils' failure to do so has "diminished the voice of planners in local decision-making and limited the career opportunities for planners in middle management roles".

A DCLG spokesman said: "We have taken significant action to boost planning skills, including funding 513 student bursaries with more than 300 to follow. We will look at these recommendations carefully before responding in detail."

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