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Improvements to Ceredigion’s planning service underway to deal with “backlog”

IMPROVEMENTS to Ceredigion’s planning service are underway with proposals to deal with the “backlog” being implemented.

Audit Wales highlighted “significant longstanding weaknesses” in the development control committee’s governance arrangements in a review of the planning service in 2021 and a number of recommendations were made, that are now due to be monitored for progress.

Corporate lead economy and regeneration Russell Hughes-Pickering said at governance and audit committee on Tuesday (September 27) that as well as the points picked up by Audit Wales the authority had also identified areas for improvement and work has been ongoing.

Each action point is either completed or ongoing, he added, with consultants engaged to “help clear the backlog in terms of planning applications and enforcement notice” that may attract criticism but was necessary.

“As the backlog comes down the performance starts to rise,” said Mr Hughes-Pickering, adding “there’s a significant piece of work to do over the next six months.”

Concerns about the authority’s food hygiene and inspection capacity were also highlighted at the committee by Cllr Gareth Davies with Alun Williams, corporate lead officer policy, performance and public protection stating: “we are not in a particularly good place” and mitigating actions were being added.

Mr Williams said that environmental health services across Wales were struggling for staff – many of whom were task with other work like track and trace during the pandemic – and even employing agency workers was harder as “we all want the same external contractors.”

Food inspection staff are highly trained, and it is hoped to develop an apprenticeship scheme in the longterm, Mr Williams said but currently “we are quite behind the targets where we would like to be” with businesses waiting to be inspected.

The “rationalisation” of office space is under consideration, in line with Audit Wales ‘springing forward workforce management reports’, and as hybrid working becomes the norm for council staff and empty space is available at both Canolfan Rheidol and Penmorfa.

The use of desks at the offices will be monitored over the winter as usage may increase, especially with increasing energy costs, the committee heard, before partnership work and other avenues are explored.

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