Unkindest cuts

PUBLISHED: 16:25 18 September 2008 | UPDATED: 13:37 06 May 2010

SIR, — St Albans District Council leader Robert Donald announced at last week s full council meeting that the cuts of £150,000 which had been hanging over the council s conservation team for months would not go ahead. However I was astonished to learn tha

SIR, - St Albans District Council leader Robert Donald announced at last week's full council meeting that the cuts of £150,000 which had been hanging over the council's conservation team for months would not go ahead. However I was astonished to learn that he proposed that the cuts would now have to be found from within the planning department, a core service of this council.

Easy-peasy some may think, surely there is some fat to cut from the bone there. Hang on though, only a few weeks ago The Herts Advertiser carried three advertisements for planning officers for this department. Even if these posts were frozen that would still not find the magic sum required. Can this department still perform its statutory duties with the loss of more than three officers? Personally I don't think so.

Last week this newspaper reported on how the planning department was slipping in meeting the Government's conveyer-belt targets on the "processing" of planning applications. The reason given was that councillors were insisting on more planning applications going to committee rather than being dealt with under "delegated powers". Well done councillors, keep attempting to keep planning within the democratic process. However of course this puts pressure on officers. To me to carry on hammering this hard-pressed department and its staff to find cuts is plain barking mad. No wonder we get some pretty perverse decisions - sometimes the cracks are bound to show.

The new interim head of planning has set some pretty stringent targets for the Local Development Framework. This will be no walk in the park if it is to be done properly. It doesn't help when the Government keeps moving the goalposts which it did only a few months ago. Cllr Donald has set the production of the LDF as one of his four major aims for the next two years. So I take it no cuts here then?

This leaves development control, the area struggling to meet Government targets. Well there might be some breathing space with the credit crunch in full swing and the new planning bill - yes, yet another one - that comes into force at the beginning of October which will reduce a number of small planning applications. However as with most things it is not that clear cut, as although some applications will be reduced, other powers will be given for the protection of historic areas which could offset the reduction here.

A recently-published report that had taken into account a survey of planning departments across the country found that, "there is genuine concern about the volume of material now required to support a planning application", which include design and access statements and flood-risk assessments. All important stuff, I suggest, that needs thorough checking. Also, "planning permissions now usually include numerous conditions (typically in excess of 20 even for small projects), many of which have to be discharged prior to commencement of works on site". The tooth fairy can't carry out this work either.

Many of us have seen the amount of work that goes into major reports such as the rail freight terminal and Tesco's. Isn't it about time that core areas of council work such as this service were assured of proper funding and the nonsense job creations given the elbow?

Finally Cllr Donald had yet another key objective which nearly had me rolling in the aisle, which was to improve the street scene. Well start by writing that letter to Herts County Council, Cllr Donald, over the dreadful Chinese granite as Cllr Ellis can't seem to do so. Also stop despoiling the district with the invasion of the wheelie bins, or do I have to wait and hope that the CERN project scientists will find a convenient nearby black hole to deposit them in.

VANESSA GREGORY,

Tennyson Road, St Albans.

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