Council chiefs defend planning powers amid staff shortages claim

Cllr Alan Woods and the land for the Taylor Wimpey development off Grane Road and Holcombe Road in Helmshore <i>(Image: LT)</i>
Cllr Alan Woods and the land for the Taylor Wimpey development off Grane Road and Holcombe Road in Helmshore (Image: LT)

PLANNING officers' capacity to monitor developers’ on new homes has been questioned in one East Lancs borough.

But town hall chiefs in Rossendale say their development control department is equipped to keep tabs on major projects.

Questions were raised by Tory Cllr Alan Woods over a Taylor Wimpey scheme to build more than 100 new homes on land off Holcombe Road, Helmshore.

Cllr Woods asked at a full council meeting: “Given the fragility with council leadership and ongoing issues with resources for planning, do you share concerns from the Grane Residents Association (GRA)?”

He added: “I have recently had a meeting with the council’s head of planning and was very grateful for the responses.

"The concern has been a lack of resources to keep-up with demands, especially with some major developers in the past who have, basically, done their own thing.

“We were told residents are protected by planning conditions. However, the concerns are the management of conditions could not be done properly because of a lack of resources. GRA is asking if major decisions could be delayed until the lack of resources is addressed?”

But Labour's Cllr Jackie Oakes, deputy borough leader, said: "I’m not sure ‘fragility’ is the right word. Staff shortages have reflected the wider, national picture.

"Staff changes have not interfered with the planning process. However, recruitment is under-way and there are two new staff for planning.

“GRA has raised a number of complex issues with the Grane site, which they have opposed throughout but it was approved by councillors."

She added: "There is no doubt we have had a capacity issue. But our officers have worked really hard and we have put measures in place. There is a national issue [with recruitment] and some councils are worse than we are. However, I am confident that we are making progress.”

The residents association opposed the Helmshore housing plan but it was approved in November last year.

Housing firm reps insist the development will provide much-needed family homes, which is critical to the borough’s housing supply.