A report published ahead of a scrutiny meeting next week reveals the understaffed department has struggled to keep on top of the number of cases coming into the system – resulting in some more of the more complex ones dragging on for years with no action being taken.
The report says the council has found it difficult to recruit and retain planning enforcement officers due to the confrontational nature of the role, but took on two additional staff earlier this year to enable the team to tackle its backlog.
As a result, the number of ongoing enforcement cases has almost halved in the last six months and more enforcement notices have been issued than in previous years.
In the last year, there have been 875 cases closed by the planning enforcement team and 707 new suspected breaches reported. There are currently 276 open cases.
The report, by Tracy Darke, assistant director of economy and place, says: “Over recent years, Shropshire Council has not adequately re-sourced the service and over time, the number of cases increased and the speed of resolving enforcement matters declined. This impacted on public confidence and frustration that unauthorised development took place and action was slow and/or ineffective.
“This has provided the much needed support to be able to focus on keeping on top of day-to-day complaints, but also providing experienced officers time to be able to progress with formal action on the more complicated cases that have not been tackled for years.”
“The team have also been concentrating on dealing with cases that had become stuck in the system due to their complexity or challenging nature.
“There have also been some cases where difficult decisions have had to be taken that should have been taken years ago, and unfortunately due to the time taken, has built up an expectation that action could be taken.
“It is the intention to have a clear position on all of these cases during the next six months of our improvement journey.”
“Shropshire Council has put a commitment into planning enforcement work by increasing the resources in the team by 40 per cent, sending a strong message to members of the public that it will not tolerate breaches of planning control that are unacceptable by being robust with action where necessary and setting out an up to date enforcement protocol.
“The team is also confident that the planning enforcement function will continue to improve, and that Members and the public will soon see and hopefully appreciate the outcome of this.”
The report will be discussed by the council’s place overview committee at a meeting next Monday.