Poor management, overworked staff and a lack of technical expertise have all contributed to lower morale in Carmarthenshire Council’s planning department, according to an internal review.
The review also indicated that some advisers were, according to one town planning consultancy, “easily accessible” to consultants and “happy to discuss individual cases.”
This was deemed “inappropriate behavior” by the company that performed it, Sustainable Works Ltd.
The review was drafted in January 2020 but was not made public, although it was referenced during board meetings.
The council forwarded a summary to the Local Democracy Reporter Service following an access to information request, and said a number of improvements have now been made.
The summary indicated that the planning service had faced several reviews since 2014, but often failed to fully implement the recommendations.
He said the planning officers appeared loyal and hardworking, and wanted to see improvements. But they “have shown considerable dissatisfaction”, with concerns about overwork, a large backlog of cases and a lack of good management.
The review said: “The staff are concerned with the situation they find themselves in, some are trying to find ways around the issues, some are leaving and some are clearly in need of support.”
He also said that planning officers did not fully understand the council’s broader ambitions for regeneration and the environment, and needed more technical expertise in areas such as ecology, drainage and land use. flood management.
The review highlighted the risks of not taking action to improve performance, including the possibility of allegations against the advisers.
“This review revealed that members were potentially inappropriately involved in planning decision-making, it is essential that training for all members (advisers) be provided along with more in-depth training for committee members. planning, as there is a risk of inappropriate decision making. and the risk of allegations of bribery or corruption, ”he said.
The review made 50 recommendations, but a separate review of the planning department by Audit Wales this year said the board had not prioritized them.
The authority set up a strategic task force immediately after the January 2020 report, but its work was put on hold when the Covid pandemic struck in March 2020.
The board has now described a series of actions it has taken to respond to the two reviews.
These include the creation of a special intervention council, chaired by the new interim planning officer.
A hub has also been set up where staff take some phone calls from the planning department, allowing officers to better focus on their case work.
This has led to a large backlog of applications – some dating back more than five years – to disappear. Pending execution cases, which at one point reached 955, are also on the decline.
Other claims are also being determined during the normal eight week period.
The council forwarded the improvements to the Local Democracy Reporter Service in a document that was shared among the councilors.
He said the new hub “was without doubt the biggest intervention ever and the performance reflects its impact.”
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