Bristol planning backlog caused by council department losing over a third of its staff
Bristol City Council bosses have recognised the “damaging impact of delays”
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A severe backlog in processing planning applications in Bristol is partly due to a council department losing over a third of its staff.
Bristol City Council bosses have recognised the “damaging impact of delays” and are working up a programme to clear the huge backlog.
During a recruitment freeze, the council’s development management department lost around 36 per cent of its staff, according to a new report, and “substantial further losses since then”. Students, graduates and consultants are now being sought to help out.
The delays to planning applications mean building works stalling, local charities losing thousands a month unable to open a new shop, and the council losing costly appeals as applicants tire of waiting and turn to government planning inspectors to speed things up.
Next week Simone Wilding, head of planning, will be grilled by councillors on her urgent programme to clear the backlog and solve long-standing issues in the council’s planning department. A report to the growth and regeneration scrutiny commission on Monday, November 27, set out some stark statistics on just how bad the problems have become.
The report said: “A significant backlog in the development management service in Bristol developed over the last 18 months. All local planning authorities are struggling due to the impact of austerity and increasing complexity, but Bristol’s backlog is probably greater than average.
“The damaging impact of the delays and stress caused by the hold-ups have been recognised. Local planning authorities with backlogs and no plan for improvement run the risk of government special measures, which can remove local decision-making powers.”
This summer, non-major applications waited almost half a year before a planning officer was allocated the case. A heavy reliance on agency and consultant staff helped with immediate capacity but is “not good value for money nor sustainable in the long term”.
The number of unallocated applications rose from 1,250 in April to a peak of 1,705 in August, falling down to 1,466 last month. On average the department decides whether to grant permission for 150 applications each month.
The number of applications over 26 weeks old has been steadily rising, from 500 in April, to 772 in July, and hitting 933 last month. There are 27 full-time equivalent planning officers working in the department, or 34 including temporary staff.
Earlier this year Gary Collins, the former head of development management, left his job. Over 3,600 petitioners have said they have lost confidence in Bristol’s planning system.
The department is now planning to hire extra consultants, redesign its team, bring in students and apprentices to help out and start an overtime scheme. Planning officer reports to the two development control committees — where councillors decide more controversial applications — will be revised to make those cases “less onerous”.