Cheshire East Council has launched an extensive recruitment campaign as part of its on-going work to improve its planning service.
The planning department, which is the busiest local planning authority in the North West, top five in the UK for major applications and top ten for the volume of planning applications, has been under review over the last six months.
The ongoing review, which has focused on the backlog of planning applications, has also highlighted the pressure the service is under with reduced staffing capacity. This has been impacted by national difficulties in recruiting experienced planners.
As a result, an extensive recruitment campaign has been launched in a bid to attract planning staff at all levels. Work has also begun on improving customer communication – with a focus on managing everyone’s expectations around how long an application takes and improving the website to help people understand the process.
Alongside a committed investment in the service – with £0.5M allocated in the council’s budget – additional staffing resource has been brought in to help reduce the planning application backlog.
Councillor Mick Warren, chair of environment and communities committee, said: “I welcome the initial findings of the planning review and recognise the significant amount of work that has gone into it this far.
“We know that Cheshire East as a borough is a place people want to live and work. This results in an extremely busy planning department with complex planning applications and high levels of challenge. However, there is also opportunity here. An up-to-date local plan gives us a strong position to strive for future development, while ensuring the special character of our communities, conservation and heritage assets are maintained.
“We also have enthusiastic and committed staff who are working towards delivering planned mixed-use development, where we will be creating sustainable places and communities for the future.
“We recognise that it is imperative to give both our customers the information they need and, current planning service staff the support they also require. Bringing additional staff into the service through the recruitment campaign is a good start, as is improving our customer service channels and communication.”
Councillor Tony Dean, chair of the planning member advisory panel said; “It’s important to consider all the interlinking problems that are happening across our planning service and recognise the exemplary work that is also happening here too.
“This review hopefully goes some way to show that we have been listening to the complaints and concerns sent to us from residents, customers and planning applicants through to members, MPs and importantly, our own staff.
“This type of review is complex and there is no easy solution. We will continue our work towards improving the customer experience and supporting staff by looking at all of the processes in place.
“We want to make sure we get better at talking to applicants and, carefully map a way forward for improving our planning service. This also involves bringing in people with the right level of skills and expertise to do this.
“Another part of this process will be to learn from best practice across the UK and planning service reviews that have been conducted at other authorities like ours.”
A variety of exciting planning job roles are available at the council. More details can be seen at www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/planningjobs