Council to spend £140k on agency staff due to large number of planning applications

PUBLISHED: 12:00 01 June 2019

A rise in the number of planning applications has caused a backlog for Sedgemoor District Council.

A rise in the number of planning applications has caused a backlog for Sedgemoor District Council.

Archant

Almost £150,000 will be spent by a council on agency staff because it cannot cope otherwise with the demand brought about by planning applications.

Sedgemoor District Council has seen 'a peak in caseload' over the past year, with its staff struggling to keep pace with the number of schemes brought forward.

Its planning staff are said to be 'incredibly stretched', with a number of vacant positions not being filled.

To remedy the situation, the council is bringing in more agency staff over a 12-month period.

Planning office Claire Pearce laid out the situation in a report published ahead of an executive committee meeting on Wednesday.

The council has handled nearly 2,000 planning applications in the past 12 months - ranging from everything to small extensions to a house to detailed proposals for hundreds of new homes.

While the council managed to deal with the majority of these, this was partly as a result of planning officers being able to agree for more time with the applicants.

Ms Pearce said: "Our performance targets met rely significantly on agreed extensions of time, although this in itself is reflective of the team's willingness to work with applicants or agents to find solutions."

On top of this, the council investigated around 400 enforcement cases - of which only four resulted in a prosecution.

Council officers are also tasked with chasing developers for infrastructure funding.

There are 236 active cases of this kind, of which around one in three (30 per cent) are behind schedule.

Ms Pearce said: "Due to the high application numbers and specifically the tranche of major applications, the application backlog is increasing, and staff have one of the highest caseloads in the south west."

Agency staff were previously brought in for three months, focusing on tourist hotspots and matters relating to the construction of Hinkley Point C - but further support is still needed.

Ms Pearce said: "Based on costs established in the market, it is estimated that a further budget of £140,000 is required for a one-year period."

The Government sets targets for the number of homes approved by local authorities, with an overall aim of 300,000 new homes being delivered each year across the UK by the mid-2020s.

The council's Local Plan - which sets out where housing and employment land should be provided up to 2032 - was formally approved in February.

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