Research by the Planning Officers Society into the average planning application work loads of case officers underscores the generally held belief that many local authority planning departments are operating at a critical level, some close to breaking point.
From a sample of 64 local authorities, statistics for the 12-month period up to 30 June 2004 demonstrates the average caseload per officer ranged from 64 to a staggering 307. This can be compared to the often quoted most reasonable caseload of 150 applications, which excludes pre-application discussions, appeal work and other non planning application related activity. Only 9.4% of authorities in the survey had levels below this 150 applications threshold and 57.8% had levels in excess of 200 per officer.
Phil Kirby, Chairman of the Society’s Development Control Topic Group, said, “The survey findings reinforce the widely held view that most planning officers in development control are working in a highly stressful environment. The culture of maintaining performance against an increasing number of indicators coupled with constant inspections only compounds that stress.”
The Society proposes to highlight its concerns for the increasing stress of planning officers in its forthcoming discussions with ODPM officials and with Ministers.