Calls for more resources for Northumberland County Council's planning enforcement team
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The communities and place scrutiny committee agreed to press the cabinet for more resources at a meeting on Wednesday. It followed a presentation from director of planning Rob Murfin, who admitted there were “pressures” on local government.
This year, there have been a number of concerns raised by various councillors across the county with regard to breaches of planning, often involving large developers.
In September, Willow Homes were handed a breach of conditions notice by the council over the Nursery Gardens development at Stannington Station, while last week the council confirmed it was in discussions with Miller Homes after councillors and residents in Bedlington raised concerns over the Longridge Farm development.
Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, Mr Murfin said: “Local government is under pressure. Take your mind back to pre-reorganisation (the switch to a unitary authority in 2009).
“There was enforcement officers at each district council. There was probably between 12 and 15 enforcement officers, now we have 4.5.
“The problem is enforcement doesn’t bring any fee income, so it’s always difficult to justify more enforcement staff. Since we have taken a more assertive stance with enforcement, we have seen a bigger increase in enforcement notices than any large authority in England.
“This has stretched our resources.”
The committee agreed to recommend to the council’s cabinet to invest more in enforcement. Coun Colin Horncastle, cabinet member with responsibility for planning, spoke to defend the work of the planning teams.
He said: “The planning department is performing really well. The system is very very good. I was delighted when I saw this document.”
Coun Horncastle added that the department was working to bring more affordable housing to the county – he continued: “I bang the drum all the time for affordable housing.
“It is my number one priority. To do it in the rural north and west is extremely difficult and that’s what I’m trying to do.”