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Council / Planning staff shortage ‘not fair’ on community, meeting hears

Lerwick Town Hall.

CONTINUING to have unfilled vacancies in the local planning service is “not fair on the community”, according to Shetland Islands Council’s development director.

Neil Grant also told a meeting of the council’s development committee on Monday that fresh discussions have been held about how to tackle the long-term recruitment difficulty.

The issue is not a new one, and reflects a national picture, but it gained renewed focus after being raised by councillors earlier this year.

Monday’s meeting heard that a new planning officer, however, has started in the development plans and heritage team, which oversees the council’s local development plan.

But the team which deals with planning applications is still quite short, Grant said.

“Having the gaps is putting huge pressure on the rest of the team,” he said.

Councillor Robbie McGregor repeated his view that more innovative methods of recruitment should be considered.

He highlighted how Glasgow City Council and the health board there have been using TV advertising campaigns in a bid to attract potential employees.

Grant said that planning manager Iain McDiarmid is particularly adept at “out of the box thinking” and added that the pair had been speaking about the subject only this morning.

Consultation with the community on the next local development plan for Shetland, meanwhile, is expected to take place later this year.

Members of the development committee were also told that the plan could be adopted in late 2022.

Local development plans guide how and where places can be developed and improved, and they act as guidance for determining planning applications.

Shetland’s current plan was implemented in 2014 and a refreshed one is in the offing.

Initial consultation is expected to take place between August and October this year, before a proposed plan is published in March 2022 and followed by more engagement.

A report presented to councillors highlighted that despite a number of factors, including staff shortages in the planning department and high workload, slippage on the project so far has only amounted to a few weeks.