Councils pressed to hang on to planners

The DCLG has called on councils not to sack planners despite a fall in applications due to the credit crunch.

It follows news that Bournemouth Borough Council is axing 13 posts because of the recession and reports that authorities such as Leicester are reviewing jobs.

DCLG chief planner Steve Quartermain said: "We know that this is a challenging time for councils but a highly skilled planning sector will play an important role in supporting economic recovery. It is vital that councils do not lose their planning expertise during the downturn."

He added: "We are looking urgently at what we can do to support authorities and hope to be in a position to set out more detailed proposals soon." The department is expected to expand on this in its official response to the Killian-Pretty review later this month.

It emerged just before Christmas that Bournemouth's planning department is cutting 13 jobs as a result of a 34 per cent drop in planning applications since last year. Council cabinet member for resources John Beesley said: "It is regrettable, but demand for services has plummeted. These posts would previously have been funded through planning fees and charges."

A Local Government Association survey has found that 83 per cent of councils across England have seen falling income from applications. A spokesman said: "Planning is a really important part of councils' service. However, it is difficult if they are seeing a drop in development control and land charges."

But Planning Officers Society president Phil Kirby warned that taking short-term decisions will lead to longer-term problems.

RTPI policy director Rynd Smith added that the housing and planning delivery grant needs to be refocused on plan-making to help councils achieve more funding and retain staff.

"The government should be viewing planning capacity so it is immediately able to take forward its Keynesian proposals for economic stimulus. Planning will be vital to this," he argued.

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