Leeds council 'deliberately under-staffing planning department' to save money - councillor's accusation
and live on Freeview channel 276
One business-owner said she had to wait eight months for a decision that she had expected would take only eight weeks, with her business’s takings being down by more than two thirds as a consequence.
The claims follow 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.
But Leeds Liberal Democrats leader Coun Stewart Golton said this was no excuse, and that deliberately under-staffing of departments was a “false economy”.
He added: “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.
“The council has quite happily collected their planning fees without providing the level of professional advice that applicants require and deserve for their money. It’s Catch 22 as the council has a monopoly on planning decisions in our area, and when I asked them to consider refunds for those affected by poor service, they say they are not allowed to do so by law.
“Meanwhile, some householders are having to reapply several times at considerable cost, despite having had no objections from neighbours, nor the option to amend plans during the application as no advice was offered by officers. It’s just not good enough.”
Lyndsay Hirst bought the old Methodist church in Aberford Road back in August 2020. She wanted to convert into a new practice for her physiotherapy business as well as two flats. She then submitted a planning application that October and was expecting a response from the council within eight weeks.
“That was their guidelines suggested,” she said. “But we didn’t get anything.
“We had builders pencilled in for January to start the conversion. By eight, nine or 10 weeks later, we were trying to find who took on our case.
“We would ring the office and leave a message, nobody would get back to us.
“This went on and on. Every time we tried to speak to them we would have zero response.
“We then found out who had taken on our application, and multiple emails were ignored. We eventually got an answer eight months later, after anticipating only two months, we were way behind schedule.”
She estimated that, during the months lost to the delay, her business lost around two thirds of its takings.
“We were trying to understand when we would be able to open, but they wouldn’t commit to any date. I was absolutely desperate. My business was affected by Covid and we weren’t able to go through with the renovation purely because of the incompetence of the council.”
Leeds City Council has been approached for a comment.
Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.