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Council / Under pressure planning service cut back again due to staff shortages

THE LOCAL planning service has had to cut back its provision again due to further staff shortages.

The services of the free planning duty officer as well as pre-application enquiries have been temporarily suspended.

The service said it “must focus our existing resources on meeting the legislative requirements of determining applications”.

The suspension, which came into force on 24 January, will be reviewed at the end of April.

Chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s development committee Alastair Cooper said there are more planning applications coming in than usual and added that staff were “inundated”.

“The staff is under a lot of pressure with all the applications that we have at the moment,” he said.

The building standards team, however, will continue to provide a duty officer service.

It comes after the same two planning services were suspended for a number of weeks last year in the aim of tackling a backlog of applications.

A shortage of planning staff has been a problem for many years, although it has been described as a national issue.

Cooper said the council is “not giving up” on recruiting new staff and an advert is currently out for three full-time posts in development management – the team which determines planning applications.

The job advert said “spectacular landscapes, coastal waters and diverse economy make the islands an exceptional place to work in planning”.

The shortage of planning staff has been frequent topic of discussion in the council chamber of the last couple of years, with Shetland South member Robbie McGregor for instance calling for more innovative methods of recruitment.

Cooper said he felt the recent increase in planning applications over the last six months was perhaps partly due to people having more time and resources during the pandemic.

He added that the challenge for the planning service would be to get young Shetlanders into roles – but that takes time and qualifications.

The development chairman said there have been a number of large developments and applications in recent years, such as the Shetland Gas Plant, the Viking Energy wind farm and SaxaVord Space Centre – all things which would not normally fall on planning officers’ desks every day.