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Shortage of property surveyors and planning officers prompts council to consider in-house apprenticeships

A SHORTAGE of qualified property surveyors and planning officers has prompted senior Swansea Council staff to consider in-house apprenticeships and training.

Head of planning Phil Holmes told councillors he wasn’t aware of a property surveyor course in Wales.

“When it comes to regeneration schemes that’s one of the vital skill sets we need,” he said.

Mr Holmes said Welsh graduates might complete such courses in England, but that getting them back for jobs in Wales afterwards “is always a bit more difficult”.

Cllr Des Thomas suggested that a university locally could run such courses.

“We would love to see that, yes,” said Mr Holmes.

The panel of councillors heard that discussions had taken place with the director of the department which covers planning and corporate building services to see if an in-house scheme could be developed to bring prospective planning officers, surveys and planning ecologists up to speed.

Mr Holmes said all local authorities were facing the same skill shortages.

“There’s the demand, but not the labour market supply,” he said. “And I don’t think the situation is going to improve any time soon.”

The report before the panel said the authority was increasingly having to buy in specialist services.

Councillors were also told the number of planning applications had risen by around 40% over the last 12 months, adding to officers’ workload.

The council determined 1,652 applications in 2020-21, with 99% of those within the required timescales.

There were 90 appeals against planning decisions, 60 of which were dismissed by Welsh Government planning inspectors. On two other occasions, inspectors awarded partial costs to appellants.

Enforcement activity dropped in 2020-21, despite a rise in the number of complaints from people, due to the Covid pandemic and staffing pressures.

Ian Davies, the council’s development conservation and design manager, said the enforcement section was, as of November 1, fully staffed for the next 12 months.

He conceded that only “reactive” work was able to take place but, in an answer to a question by Cllr Peter Jones, said the recruitment of monitoring officers would – if it happened – enable the enforcement section get on the front foot.

The Welsh Government target of starting enforcement work through to taking action is 84 days, and the council only achieved this 51% of the time in 2020-21.

Cllr Peter Black said people who reported enforcement issues could be deterred by an automatic email response which said the council would respond within 84 days.

“Maybe we could look at how that is phrased?” he said.

“Yes, certainly,” replied Mr Davies.

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