Plans for new planners proposed in West Norfolk
A comprehensive restructure of the planning department at West Norfolk Council is set to be considered this month.
Stuart Dark, leader of the council, said: “As an administration we’ve always said that we want to enable our staff to do the work they do for West Norfolk effectively.
"We have already undertaken reviews in several key areas, leading to investment and improvement in amongst others; our support to the environment, our response to fly-tipping and litter enforcement, our legal team and our ability to engage and consult.
“A tasked review of the existing structure of the planning control team as part of this process and a desire to be the best we can be has now identified that additional investment is needed in that department.
"Planning officers have a large and complex caseload that is crucial to supporting our residents and businesses.
"This is, in part, due to continued confidence and investment in West Norfolk which is something that we welcome, particularly off the back of our administration of over £78 milion of grants to support local businesses throughout the pandemic.
"The department is also preparing for extra demand and complex cases due to further Government planning requirements expected in the future.”
Planning officers here currently have a case-load of around 177 cases each, compared to between 99 and 110 in neighbouring councils.
Richard Blunt, cabinet member for development and regeneration, said: “We have undertaken this review as we knew that we had capacity issues within the team partly due to vacant posts and partly due to the increasing number of planning applications and the ever-increasing complexity of many of those applications.
"We are also aware of the welcome additional duties coming forward, such as biodiversity net gain, which will further increase the complexity of applications.
“This is a paid for service and customers rightly expect their applications to be dealt with in a timely and professional manner.
“Clearly, recruitment within planning has been challenging for some time, not just here but across the public sector, so we are also looking at reviewing the grades and working arrangements to make the roles more attractive and to encourage people from further afield to apply.
“If approved by cabinet, the increase in the team will be fully funded by planning fees income and will result in a much-improved service for all our clients.”
The report is also seeking additions to the planning enforcement team to deal with the 500-plus enforcement caseload that the current team is working on, a figure which is higher than all other district councils in Norfolk.
"This will include a post to improve communication with complainants about the progress of their complaint.
Mr Dark added: “It is important that we as a council enforce breaches of conditions applied to any planning ‘consent’ given where we can proportionately and effectively, as such breaches often impact on residents, undermine confidence in the system and detract from the good work done by the vast majority of developers and residents we work with.”
Other changes include an additional officer to support the administration of the Community Infrastructure Levy, which has so far seen £1.3m being allocated back into community projects right across West Norfolk.
This funding comes from developer contributions as a result of the current Government requirement for the borough council to deliver 549 new homes each year.
An assistant arboriculture officer, and two technical support officers will also provide further support.
The new posts will be funded by the Government’s proposed increase in planning fees recently announced.
This proposal is set to be reviewed by corporate performance panel on June 16 and cabinet on June 21.