‘Step into my office’ – with Jo Hanslip

This week Jo talks about…

“The East of England Planning Capacity and the Management of Planning Resources.”

I was not surprised to read that an East of England and National LGA review (sponsored by St. Albans City & District Council, my own home town) had concluded that the region was significantly lacking in skills and planning capacity required to deliver much needed housing.

Day-to-day experience suggests that there is a significant shortfall of dedicated and suitably skilled Planning Officers. During this most recent summer period, we experienced a substantial number of projects within local authority areas across the South East and East of England with high housing delivery targets had just one member of full-time planning staff working.
For the best part of a month where planning determinations or condition discharge submissions were pending, all work simply ground to a halt for what seemed like an inordinate period of time. Planning Officers took (often deserved) leave, but due to the serious lack of capacity within the respective authorities, there was no one available to pick up the slack and so files just remained dormant for 4 -6 weeks.

This comes at a time where the requirement for consistent delivery of much needed housing and maintenance of a buoyant housing market has never been so important, to ensure the adequate resourcing of planning departments in the East of England – and elsewhere in the Country…

Not only are such periods of inaction exasperating, but they are also detrimental to our fragile economy.

The East of England/LGA review highlighted:

• A serious lack of capacity
• An aging workforce – which presents us with an even more concerning picture with no proper succession planning arrangement being put in place
• High turnover of staff – in one Local Authority (I won’t mention) we had 4 different Case Officers during pre-app (which was not extensive, circa 3 – 4 months) and we were on the 4th Officer before we had even submitted the application!

Whilst the review emphasises that planning graduates are an essential solution to the problem, I would of course concur, in part, that graduates can and will need to play a role in rebalancing the system. However my concern is that there appears to be a serious lack of experienced and dedicated Officers who have the gravitas to effectively work with the private sector to deliver complex and challenging schemes in an effective and efficient manner. Without people of calibre in more senior positions in local authorities, I fear the system may creak more than it already does going forwards…

I’m not suggesting that we all move from the private sector to the public sector to alleviate the burden, but it does strike me that job opportunities, experience, remuneration and retention of more senior Officers is crucially important so that we get the service that we need and demand.

I also wonder whether in authorities such as St. Albans – who lack both development management and policy staff, whether a greater interchange between Officers working across planning disciplines might also be encouraged. To ensure a greater breadth of skill sets, create a more dynamic workforce, ensure a better response to workload pressures in either aspect of the planning department and also serve to better excite and involve planning professionals.

We watch in anticipation to see how planning resources are a managed in the East of England and beyond…

Find out more about St. Albans in our recent blog post, ‘An Examination of Local Planning’ where there is a very insightful case study – ‘St. Albans is in Chaos’.

Urbanissta Ltd was established in January 2011 by Jo Hanslip who set the Company up having spent the previous 8 years working as a Senior Director for Redrow Homes Plc. She previously worked for the House Builders Federation (HBF), Babtie and various Local Authorities across England. Jo has been a member of RTPI since 1998.

Further reading: East Of England LGA Action Plan 2016/17

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