Sheffield Council planners under 'extreme pressure' because of staff shortages

The planning enforcement team at Sheffield Council is under 'extreme pressure' as it struggles to cope with fewer and less experienced officers.

Monday, 17th December 2018, 11:23 am
Updated Monday, 17th December 2018, 11:28 am
Sheffield Town Hall

The council failed to hit its targets on planning enforcement from April to September because of staff shortages. The number of notices served and prosecutions carried out have also dropped.

Officers take action if developers breach planning permission, if buildings or structures are put up without consent or if there are untidy sites. They can investigate, issue stop notices and ultimately prosecute.

'The enforcement function is a key element of development management that is currently under significant pressure,' says director of development services Khalid Mahmood, in a report to councillors.

'It receives a high number of complaints about breaches of planning control, and expectations of an efficient, responsive service are high amongst the public and members.

'The enforcement team currently has reduced capacity, with fewer and less experienced staff members than the in the previous six months so they are under extreme pressure.

'Ongoing staffing and resources issues have resulted in the six month service target not being met and the number of notices served and prosecutions carried out have also dropped. Nevertheless, the service continues to respond effectively to the most serious breaches of planning control.'

During the six month period, 242 enforcement complaints were received. Out of these, 59 per cent were about unauthorised development and use and 22 per cent were failure to comply with planning conditions or approved plans.

The number of cases involving untidy land or buildings was seven per cent. Unauthorised advertisements, including hoardings, accounted for three per cent and all other complaints were nine per cent.

The number of cases resolved within the target of six months was 49 per cent '“ this has fallen short of the service target of 60 per cent but has increased by eight per cent from the previous six months.

Mr Mahmood says: 'The low percentage is the effect of a loss of experienced members of staff. There are currently 567 live cases, which is 27 cases fewer than the previous six months.'

There has been a drop in the number of cases received. In 2016/17 there were 622 cases and in 2017/18 this fell to 433.

Mr Mahmood says: 'This has mainly been through some ongoing changes and filtering of enquiries on submission, changes such as, requesting that an enforcement enquiry from to be completed in full wherever possible before a complaint is investigated formally and not registering verbal or anonymous complaints, unless there appears to be a significant harm.

'Furthermore, officers have not been able to carry out as much proactive enforcement action particularly relating to To Let signs as in previous years.

'The number of formal notices that have been served in the last six and 12 months has decreased significantly.

'This has been due to a number of reasons, but mainly because of the significant reduction in experienced staff. Although only limited formal notices were issued, many cases were resolved by negotiation.'