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Council / Planning service cutback to continue in bid to tackle backlog

THE TEMPORARY suspension of some planning services in Shetland has been extended to the end of June amid a staffing shortage, increased workload and the “additional pressure of poor connectivity” as people work from home.

It means that the by the end of June the free planning duty officer and pre-application enquiry services will have been suspended for four months.

The planning service said focusing on legislative requirements of processing applications will “benefit everyone in the long-term”.

The issue of a shortage of planning staff in the team which deals with applications has regularly been raised in the council chamber in recent months, although it is said to be a national problem.

The planning service said on Friday that it has 47 applications still to be allocated to an officer. Since the service cutback in February, however, applications have been able to be processed more quickly.

“We continue to have the marine planning team taking on some of the development management work to help with applications and reduce the backlog further,” the service added.

“Despite the staffing shortages that remain and the heavy workload, including dealing with variations and amendments to previous approvals, we have in the period since the suspension of the services began determined 126 applications under delegated powers.

“Taking account of the pressure and stresses that are being felt currently, we have decided to extend the temporary suspension of the free planning duty officer and pre-application enquiry services until 28th June.

“During this time, we will focus again on the statutory function of processing applications.

“This will give the team a better chance of success in continuing to tackle the backlog of planning applications to further shorten the timescales by when those which have been validly made can be subject of assessment, reporting and determination.”

The building standards team, which is currently fully staffed, will continue to provide a duty officer service.