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New Forest District Council planning department 'staff shortages' contributed to just eight enforcement actions in 2021, planning chief admits

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A LACK of planning officers at New Forest District Council has hindered its ability to take enforcement against people breaking the rules, it has emerged.

The head of the department, Claire Upton-Brown, revealed NFDC had launched action just eight times in 2021, laying some of the blame on a “shortage of staff”.

She made the admission during a recent meeting of the ruling cabinet after being challenged about the situation by Liberal Democrat opposition leader Cllr Malcolm Wade.

NFDC’s new enforcement plan for 2022 has been approved
NFDC’s new enforcement plan for 2022 has been approved

She said: “At any one time there are around 200-plus complaints.

“Last year we served eight notices – but we were quite short of staff. So that might be slightly reflective of that situation.”

That had prompted a plan to provide quarterly progress reports to the council’s planning committee so it could analyse performance, she added.

But Mrs Upton-Brown stressed it was difficult to measure the success of enforcement, as sometimes a positive result could be to avoid formal action by engaging with applicants to resolve concerns.

Backbencher Cllr Steve Clark said town and parish councils had “frustrations” with enforcement, and felt some applicants knew how to “use the system” at the expense of society.

NFDC planning boss Claire Upton-Brown
NFDC planning boss Claire Upton-Brown

Mrs Upton-Brown added: “It is quite a frustrating system, but a system that we have to work within.”

The comments came as the ruling Conservative cabinet approved NFDC’s new enforcement plan for 2022.

One of the policies is that complainants must give their name and address to have a planning issue investigated, unless it concerns a serious breach, such as public health and safety.

If a complaint is made an NFDC inspector will visit the site and, if they determine a potential breach, will advise the applicant on how to rectify the situation. However, action is discretionary to the council and must be proportionate.

When the council serves a formal notice it will continue with the action until the matter has been determined, which can mean going to court.

In exceptional cases the council will carry out the works itself, and then recover costs from the applicant involved.

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