The SIC planning department was branded “atrocious” this week by Lerwick Community Council chairman Jim Anderson, who said it must have won its awards for being the slowest in the world.
At Monday’s meeting he criticised planning policymakers for caring more about sustainable house design than helping people who were “screaming out” for a site to build in Lerwick, sticking rigidly to a Lerwick Local Plan which was 30 years out of date.
To sum up what he thought of the department he said you only had to look as far as Gulberwick, which some people cite as a byword for planning failure.
Another community councillor, Kathy Greaves, spoke of one occasion when the planner on the other end of the phone line did not know where the Clickimin Centre was, let alone Cairnfield Road nearby. Where did the department get its staff? she asked, adding that it was “really ridiculous” not to know your area.
The community council’s guest, the straight-talking new executive director of infrastructure services Gordon Greenhill, took the criticisms on the chin, describing them as “fairly to the point”.
He admitted his planners were “failing badly” in meeting performance targets set by government, including one at only 40 per cent of the target, which was not acceptable. Mr Greenhill said part of the reason was high turnover of staff and difficult applications.
Lifting the lid on problems in the planning service, he admitted its different divisions “didn’t speak to each other” or to the public and had been “a bit dogmatic” and, on occasion, not as flexible as they could have been in interpreting policy.
It is fair to say a few lessons in customer care have been dished out to staff since Mr Greenhill took up his post in December. In his first few months the Edinburgh man has spent a lot of time familiarising himself with Shetland and its ways, sitting through community council meetings, listening to people and not making judgments until he has learnt about the subject.
“You have brilliant services here,” he told the community council, waxing lyrical about the quality roads, the waste-to-energy plant, recycling centre and a refuse collection which was “second to none”. In his local government experience he had never seen a more efficient gritting, salting and snow-ploughing service.