Leeds City Council admits struggling to deal with 'unprecedented' number of planning applications

Leeds City Council has admitted it has been struggling to process the high number of new planning applications since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 4:52 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 5:23 pm
Coun Stewart Golton

It follows claims that staffing numbers in the authority’s planning department are deliberately being kept low due to huge cuts to services earlier this year.

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns led to a glut of people wanting to make changes to their homes and businesses. But large-scale alterations, such as extensions or conversions, must be approved by the council’s planning department.

Sixteen and seventeen-year-olds to be offered first coronavirus vaccineA senior councillor recently accused the authority of attempting to save money by delaying the replacement of staff who had left the planning service, which has led to long work backlogs and decisions being months overdue.

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Leeds City Council has now admitted that it struggled to keep up with demand, but added that it was now doing everything it could to recruit new staff and deal with applications in a timely way.

A council spokesperson said: “During the past year Leeds City Council planning service has remained operational throughout the pandemic. We have been making every effort to continue business as usual and to streamline our processes.

Leeds Temple Works scheme could include 'landmark public square'“However, like all other Local Planning Authorities across the UK, this year our Planning Service has received an unprecedented number of planning applications.

“Teams have been working hard to process applications swiftly and we have put various measures in place to tackle the surge in applications, including prioritising recruitment of staff to vacant posts and securing additional temporary posts to help clear backlogs. We also provide additional guidance and advice for planning applicants on the council website.

“While we make every effort to reduce the caseload, due to demand and the continuing pandemic, some ongoing delays are inevitable until our remedial measures take full effect.”

It follows huge cuts to council departments in this year’s budget, due to an already-existing deficit and the added effects of Covid 19 – which eventually saw £90m of savings and 800 job losses.

Leeds Liberal Democrats leader Coun Stewart Golton said: “The Labour-run council is guilty of neglecting its responsibilities as a planning authority.

“A surge in home improvement applications had been predicted widely in the media as a consequence of lockdown holding up planned building work, and new applications to enable a higher level of home working.

"The department has deliberately been kept under-staffed to save money in wages, and ordinary citizens trying to improve their homes are reaping the consequences of this false economy.”

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