THE NUMBER of vacancies in the local planning department remains an issue – and it continues to be a big priority for the council.
The long-standing topic was raised again at a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s development committee on Tuesday.
There is a projected underspend of £169,000 this year due to 6.25 full-time equivalent vacancies in the department.
A report to councillors said work is taking place with Promote Shetland on a recruitment advertising campaign.
Development director Neil Grant felt one issue behind problems with staff retention has been “undue criticism” in the community over planning decisions.
He reiterated that staff are working to the guidance of the Shetland local development plan, which is approved by councillors.
The main issue is in the development management team, which determines the outcome of applications and monitors projects.
The building standards team on the other hand have had little problem with retention, the meeting heard.
Grant said there may need to be a “deeper dive” into the situation.
He also conceded a lack of staff will have an impact on the time taken to process the workload.
It comes after the department temporarily cut back some services earlier this year, such as pre-application advice, to focus on a backlog.
Grant also noted that compared to other local authorities Shetland has a high rate of large developments.
In recent years planners have had to deal with the Viking Energy wind farm as well as developments like the SaxaVord Spaceport.
Grant said more large developments are in the pipeline.
Councillors were keen to offer suggestions, such as bringing in external agency staff or seconding staff from other local authorities for short stints.
Grant said planning manager Iain McDiarmid has previously contacted other local authorities to discuss the recruitment problems.
“We really do need to have a go at these things again,” he said.
Meanwhile council leader Steven Coutts said elected members had a “responsibility” to support planning staff, adding that it is of “mutual benefit” to do so.
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