Agenda item

Resourcing within the Planning Service

To update the Performance Monitoring Panel on resourcing within the Planning Service (report of the Executive Director Place (S151) enclosed).

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Executive Director (Place), which updated the Performance Monitoring Panel on resourcing within the Planning Service.

 

Following the update provided to the Performance Monitoring Panel on 25 November 2014, to address concerns raised with regard to completion of the South East Lincolnshire Local Plan, and delivery of the Planning service, a report had been presented to the Strategy Board on 16 December 2014, detailing the current situation with regard to insufficient staffing levels within the Planning Service, and the risks that this posed to the Department and the Authority in relation to service delivery.  The provision of a £235,000 resource within the departmental budget had been sought to recruit to the following three temporary posts: Senior Planning Officer (2 years), Conservation Officer (part-time, 3 years) within the Development Management Team, and a Local Plan Project Management Officer (18 months).  The Strategy Board had been entirely supportive of these proposals and had agreed to immediately provide funds for all three posts for the temporary periods outlined above.

 

The Planning Services immediately and successfully recruited to all three of the posts as follows:

 

·         The additional Senior Planning Officer commenced work on 5 January 2015;

·         The Conservation Officer role was also filled on 5 January 2015; and

·         Local Plan Project Management resource was sourced and began working with the Joint Policy Unit Manager on 5 January 2015 (this was a supportive role that, whilst on-going, had been added to provide focus and project management skills to complement the existing resource).

 

In addition, two vacant Policy Officer posts were both filled in December 2014, leaving only one full-time vacancy within the Planning Service, which would be re-advertised shortly.

 

A marked improvement in performance had been seen in January and February within the Development Management Team.  The longer-term benefits were harder to predict as income and application numbers remained high, and there still remained a single full-time vacancy.  However, this post would be re-advertised shortly and when filled, should deliver greater resilience to meet with future demand.

 

With regard to the Local Plan team, the introduction of dedicated project management had enabled a thorough review of workload, work streams and project timescales to be undertaken.  This had highlighted that the 6 month gap in staff resource had had an adverse effect upon work associated with the production of the Local Plan.  Whilst existing work streams were maintained with the assistance of Boston colleagues, the consequence had been further down the line.  Tandem work on other policy areas could not be begun and, as a consequence, there had been some slippage in the anticipated timescales.  In addition, the Council’s viability consultants had expressed the clear view that the next iteration of the Local Plan should be subject to the process of  ‘whole plan viability assessment’. This was a matter that, nationally, had caused delays in Local Plan production and impacted upon the evidence base, and the likelihood of site delivery.  These issues would be considered when the South East Lincolnshire Joint Strategic Planning Committee next met on 6 March 2015.  The report would set out the issues and seek agreement to a revised Local Development Scheme.

 

Members considered the information provided, and the following issues were raised:

 

·         Members were happy to hear that that the situation within the Planning Department was improving.

 

·         With regard to the situation around the one full-time vacancy, detailed within section 4.3 of the report, it appeared that the gap in capacity had been covered well.  Was there any flexibility in capacity to deal with the backlog?

o   The Planning Manager responded that this was the ambition.  The main drive would be to improve applications, that turnaround may not be quick, but that it was preferable to arrive at a positive first application. 

 

·         Members requested that a further update be provided to the Panel in six months time.  The Planning Manager commented that the forthcoming elections could have an impact on performance and requested that the update be provided in eight months time.  Members agreed with this request.

 

AGREED:

 

a)    That the report of the Executive Director (Place) be noted; and

 

b)    That a further update report on the position regarding resourcing within the Planning Department be provided to the Panel in 8 months’ time.

Supporting documents: