Six people are to be employed temporarily by the SIC planning department at a total cost of almost £400,000, despite strong objections to the proposal.
The appointments, for nine months in the current financial year and the whole of the next one, are deemed to be necessary because of extra pressure of large projects such as the Anderson High School, Mareel, the Mid Yell school, 160 houses at Scalloway and Staney Hill, the windfarm and a new terminal at Scatsta airport.
A report before Tuesday’s infrastructure committee stated that the additional pressure came at a time when the council’s planning service was performing well below the national average.
Statutory performance indicator returns of 51.4 and 35.4 per cent against targets of 90 and 80 per cent must be improved on. The infrastructure management team and the service managers were working to improve matters but the complexity of applications was impacting very heavily on the ability to achieve the targets, the report explained.
The money for the first nine months (£190,410) would have to come from council reserves with the figure for the next year (£200,547) being included as part of a revenue estimates process.
Lerwick North councillor Gussie Angus immediately tried to shoot down the proposal, saying he was unwilling to accept the recom–mendation until it was ascertained that people currently working in the department could not be re–deployed.
“I don’t accept that the planning department deals with much bigger applications than other local authorities,” he said. “Some staff work on heritage and other prestige projects who could easily be redeployed. Six posts is a major restructuring of services.”
Mr Angus moved an amendment to refuse the application and he was seconded by Shetland South councillor Allison Duncan.
Shetland West member Frank Robertson, the chairman of the planning board, put the case for the recommendation.
“Each section of the planning department deals with different issues,” he said. “Five hundred applications go through the department each year and only a small proportion of that comes through the planning board. The SIC deals with much bigger and more complex applications than many other councils.”
Shetland North councillor Alastair Cooper said he was “amazed” that the head of finance, or the chief executive, had allowed the report to come before the committee. They should be asked to justify why it had come forward.
Shetland Central member Betty Fullerton reminded the meeting that recently money could not be found to fund three extra posts in the social work service, which meant that 37 elderly people had to stay in hospital.
“We have to be fair in the services we provide,” Mrs Fullerton said. “Some of the work could be put on the back burner.”
Head of infrastructure Gordon Greenhill said the perception might be that some projects were beyond the planning stage but in reality they went on much longer. Figures showed that the department was not coping. To refuse the plea may have an impact on Shetland’s economy with the loss of investment oppor–tunities for the isles.
Mr Angus refused to accept that, saying that they should “seriously examine” what some people in the planning department were doing.
“This is not a good way to do business,” he said. “We are failing in our duty to social care. The case has not been sufficiently made. I have every sympathy with people who are overworked but simply do not accept that this is the case here.”
Mr Robertson said there was no slack in the planning department. They had found it difficult to recruit and everybody was “fully engaged in tasks”. A single application could take three months to complete and planning had become more complex with environmental impact assess-ments, etc.
Councillors voted 10-8 in favour of the recommendation over Mr Angus’s amendment.
Shetland North councillor Bill Manson had indicated that he might table a further amendment, but withdrew it as he said he was expecting Mr Angus to win.