Headlines: July 24th, 2008

A committee of MPs is warning that there is real risk that Government targets for house-building and regeneration will not be met because the local government planning system cannot cope. A report released today by the Communities and Local Government
Select Committee finds council planners will be unable to manage the volume or variety of tasks that are required between now and 2020.

The report says the country’s wider economic well-being and delivery of the Government’s environmental priorities could be hindered by two linked and chronic problems, staff shortages and a
lack of skills, that the MPs say need to be addressed urgently.

The report says the committee heard that a drastic shortage of planning officers was likely to affect almost half of local council posts by 2012. At the same time, even among planners working within the system, the committee found there was what it calls,
“a significant and growing skills gap”. The problems, the report says, have been recognised for more than a decade but little has been done to rectify them.

Dr Phyllis Starkey, who chairs the committee, said the initial aim of its inquiry had been to look at the skills shortage in modern planning departments. “But we quickly discovered the problem went further and that there was a shortage of planners themselves”, she said. It was surprising and frustrating, Dr Starkey
added, that the shortages had been in evidence for well over a decade but in spite of numerous reviews nothing had been done. “This must change if we are to get communities which live up to the new environmental and house building needs of the 21st century”, she continued.

The Committee is calling on the Government to raise the status of planning within local government and to produce long-term assessments of the numbers of people employed in planning and other important professions connected to sustainable communities so skills shortages can be anticipated. The MPs also want more
done to promote planning as a career and a more flexible attitude to the ages at which planners can be considered for promotion to more senior posts as well as more conversion courses for mid-life professionals who might want to switch to planning careers.