External help brought in to clear Rother’s planning backlog
Rother District Council has brought in an outsourcing firm to help clear its planning backlog, councillors have heard.
The issue was discussed at a planning committee meeting on Thursday (August 12), where committee chairman Jonathan Vine-Hall said the council had brought in the outsourcing firm Capita to speed up the rate at which it processes applications.
Cllr Vine-Hall said the decision to bring in the firm came after a period of delays.
He said: “As most people will know we are quite a long way behind on planning applications. This is not a problem which has sort of emerged overnight.
“Two years ago, in May when I started, this problem was in existence. We didn’t have sufficient resources and at that time myself and the deputy chair offered to support any resources that we needed. Unfortunately that wasn’t taken up.
“Later in the year we identified the issues again and it wasn’t until September last year, with the appointment of Malcom Johnston [as chief executive] that we were able to get both a proper planning review done and get additional resources put into the planning department to try and deal with the backlog.
“[The backlog] was partly caused because we didn’t have enough resources in that department and then exacerbated by the Covid time. During Covid there was a massive increase in the number of applications, so it was a bit of a perfect storm.”
Cllr Vine-Hall went on to say officers from Capita are currently handling around 303 outstanding applications – roughly equivalent to around three months of proposals.
He also said the council was looking at what reforms it could make to its wider planning processes.
He said: “We are moving on existing applications, it is happening. It will take some time for those applications to come through to approval, but it has also taken the pressure off existing officers who all have a caseload which is around twice their normal level.
“I don’t think it would be unreasonable to expect that we will be back to normal sometime, certainly within the next six months and hopefully beforehand.
“It really depends on the applications that are in hand and ones that come in, in terms of their complexity, but I think it is important for everybody to understand that those resources are in place, it is having an impact and it will correct itself in time.”