COMPLAINTS against Cheshire East’s planning department have risen by a third as the council battles to clear a backlog of planning applications amid a staffing shortage.

Altogether there were 151 complaints in 2020/21 compared to 113 the previous year.

Chief executive Lorraine O’Donnell said there was a plan in place to clear the mountain of applications but warned it could take months.

She asked for patience from the public as Cheshire East, like many authorities, faces a double whammy – staff recruitment problems and a whopping 15 per cent increase in the number of planning applications being submitted.

“This is a national issue, not just for Cheshire East. It's hard to recruit and retain planners,” Ms O’Donnell told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“Also, the number of planning applications has risen dramatically over the period of Covid.

“As we come out of the pandemic, it's about 15 per cent up.

“We've never had the demands that we've had now, so that combination of fewer staff, more applications - that's the direct cause of the backlog.”

Cheshire East is trying hard to recruit the planning officers it needs, but it isn’t proving easy.

“It's been really difficult to get and keep hold of planners. They are being recruited into the private sector,” said Ms O’Donnell.

The council is also improving its IT system so people can work more efficiently and has put in a team to focus on getting through the outstanding applications as quickly as possible.

On top of the staffing issues and the rise in applications, the enforcement workload has also increased.

“We've also had a pretty extreme increase in demand for enforcement activity too,” said Ms O’Donnell.

“We've had more requests for planning enforcement than ever before.”

She added: “So, there’s an improvement plan in place, but it will take some months to catch up.

“That depends on whether we continue to see the kind of demand at the higher level that we've seen.

“We don't know if that's going to taper off at some point, that'll help us catch up, but if that continues to grow, then that period could be a lot more lengthy.

“I just ask people to be patient with us while we try to address this backlog, and, obviously, the staff are working really hard to do that.”