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Jonny Pennick

Three key ways that local authorities can access flexible planning resource, no matter where they are based in the UK.

Recruiting planning resources is a competitive market right now. They’re in short supply, meaning it can be difficult for councils to recruit locally. And, with ever strained budgets, many organisations simply can’t afford to offer competitive employment packages to attract the resources. We’re now seeing a growing trend in local authorities seeing alternative ways to access quality planning professionals.

However, planning support doesn’t always have to be delivered onsite; it could be remote, local or a mix of both. Here’s a rundown of some alternative solutions and things to consider, to make sure it’s right for your organisation.

Planning hub support

Designed to ease the strain on in-house teams, planners work remotely alongside your existing teams. It works well for those organisations looking for quick and flexible access to a pool of professional planners. Support could be in the form of clearing planning backlogs or supporting your existing teams with a resource intensive or demanding planning case.

This has been really successful for the likes of The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead who over a period of 8 months processed 120 minor applications which included a new admission and visitors centre at Windsor Castle, school extensions, housing developments, retail uses and agricultural buildings. Our team were also asked to process 115 householder applications. 

For obvious reasons, this solution isn’t right for the more complex or local cases but generally, it is a popular solution because councils get all the benefits and performance improvements, without the need for local delivery or permanent resources.

Onsite support

Like I mentioned above, not all planning services should be delivered remotely. In the case of planning enforcement, inspections, complex planning applications and consultations, locally delivered support is imperative.

That’s not to say a resilience model can’t apply though. In fact, it’s a solution that has been successful for Trafford Council, as one of our senior planning officers, works onsite alongside Trafford Council’s Planning team four days a week as a development management team leader, supporting on key planning applications and also managing the existing team. Another example is at Purbeck District Council where one of our planning managers has responsibility for managing existing staff onsite and is helping them progress in terms of their jobs and careers.

For example, at Capita, we have a network of planners across the country, meaning we can generally offer local support anywhere in the UK and our planners physically work alongside your existing planning teams. Rightly so, councils may worry that there will be a gap of ‘local’ knowledge. So, for us, the full on-boarding process with your local teams is essential to make sure we are in tune with your locality, political environment, schemes and procedures. Interestingly, we’ve found that this approach actually brings wider benefits of best practice sharing among a wider planning community, up-skilling and mentoring of junior members of staff.

Combining onsite and remote support flexibly

As we know, planning requirements are not always black and white, with peaks and troughs in demand. Sickness, holiday seasons and particularly complex planning cases can also impact operational delivery. Such peaks are generally temporary, meaning it’s difficult for councils to justify the time and cost of recruiting full-time staff to fill the gap.

One size rarely fits all when it comes to planning support, so this model brings the best of onsite and remote delivery, which can be switched on or off as required. Councils get the benefit of quick, easy but high-quality access to additional planning capacity. It’s not a new approach and one we’ve personally provided for over 15 years, however given the market climate, we are seeing more demand for this type of hybrid delivery.

I’ve also seen first-hand that it’s having a positive impact on career development and morale. Planners can live in the locality of their choice and gain experience across a range of planning specialisms. This has been key to recruiting some of the best planning professionals to our national team and subsequently the benefits are passed onto the customer.

Every council is different, but the competitive landscape and rising demand is a common trend, making it increasingly difficult to optimise the balance between supply and demand. Thinking about resilience support not only provides choice but genuine flexibility to meet specific needs - whether that’s on your doorstep or across the pond.

Written by

Jonny Pennick

Jonny Pennick

Associate Planning Director at Capita’s planning hub in Manchester

Our planning hubs in Belfast, Barnet, Breckland, North Tyneside provide a range of remote planning and local plan support to Councils across the UK. The Manchester hub is Capita’s fifth planning hub and opened in September 2019 to support local authorities with planning resilience in the north west.

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