Mid Suffolk/Babergh: Money to be spent on planning departments after concerns

MORE than �130,000 is available to spend on improving two council’s planning departments after there were concerns over their performance.

Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils’ planning departments are a “significant risk” to the authorities’ integration, according to a council document.

Councillors at a Mid Suffolk full council meeting on Thursday evening agreed to spend the money. Babergh is due to discuss the proposals on Tuesday.

Tim Passmore, leader of Mid Suffolk said the planning departments were not in crisis, but councillors did have concerns. “It is something we have raised with officers for the last three to four months,” he said.

“It’s got to a stage where we have to turn it around and get back up to speed. We are looking at the resources to get it back to an even keel.

“We will be keeping a close eye on this. It is quite a lot of money,” he said. “We need to make sure we do not fall too far behind with the applications that are waiting to be assessed and dealt with. We need to make sure the integration is ongoing – we do not want a great backlog.”

He said the departments had been affected by planning staff leaving through voluntary redundancy.

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The money will be used to recruit staff for a sixth-month period to bolster the councils’ planning teams during the integration of services. Staff will receive training to combat increasing levels of customer service “dissatisfaction”.

The council document states there have been ‘poor’ results at Babergh and a ‘significant’ backlog of work has built up at Mid Suffolk.

There have been ‘poor decision making’ at both councils for applications and inquiries.

The money would come from the councils’ reserve funds, with Mid Suffolk allocated �58,500 and Babergh �75,500.

The integration process means staff are working more closely to deliver joint services.

A deadline of March 31, 2013 has been given when the councils’ planning services need to be fully integrated. Further reports will be made at the three and six-month stage of the improvement plan.