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Council / Efforts ongoing to recruit planning staff as workload continues to grow

SIC head of planning Iain McDiarmid. Photo: SIC

SHETLAND Islands Council’s (SIC) planning department is continuing its efforts to recruit much-needed staff in the light of a national shortage of professional planners and an ever-growing workload including a number of large and complex local projects.

Councillors at Tuesday’s meeting of the SIC’s development committee heard that a recruitment drive was underway to fill the department’s 7.5 full time equivalent (FTE) vacancies in a bid to reduce the pressure on the service.

The meeting approved the £7 million budget for the development department which includes economic development, housing, community planning and development, Shetland Museum and Archives and planning.

Head of the planning Iain McDiarmid said the service employed about 30 people locally so a shortage of 7.5 staff (or 25 per cent) was significant.

Following Tuesday’s meeting he said that as the funding is in place to recruit staff, the challenge is to find professional planners willing to relocate to the far north.

“If you are looking for example at the development plans team, we are 50 per cent short of officers there, and we are a couple of posts short at development management – so it has a significant impact on what we can do and how we do things,” he said.

McDiarmid continued saying that Shetland wasn’t the only local authority in Scotland that was struggling to keep its planning service going.

“There are fewer people to job as a whole, the planning schools are only turning out 30 trained planners every year, and if you consider that there are 30 odd local authorities looking for planners, and the whole private sector, then you have a shortage of people in planning and building standards,” McDiarmid said.

“Getting people to come to Shetland is difficult. I know that Orkney and the Western Isles also have difficulty recruiting people – and we really haven’t managed to get the message across that there is a huge variety and range of work in places like Shetland that people just wouldn’t get experience of in other places.”

The planning service is currently tasked dealing with two major housing developments in Lerwick – the Knab redevelopment as well as the Staney Hill housing project – in addition to several renewable energy projects and a proposed spaceport in Unst which is expected to lodged a full planning application later this year.

“There is plenty of work, and in a place like Shetland you have a wide variety of work,” McDiarmid said. “If you were working in a city you might be dealing with some minor house development, an extension here and there and some listed building stuff.

“Whereas in Shetland you are dealing with anything from wind farms, quarries and space centres right down to your domestic house building – so there is a huge range of work and it is quite a challenge to be able to cover that range of work in a place like Shetland which does have a lot of designations and a lot of interesting flora and fauna we are protecting too.”