Monday, February 26, 2024

Gunnedah shoots for more town planners to keep up with growth

Gunnedah Shire Council has announced it is actively recruiting for town planners to keep pace with rapid growth in the Shire.

Over the past 18 months, 232 development applications have been lodged with Council, along with Customer Service Requests, street trading applications, planning certificates, and state significant developments, among other requests.

Council says most of the DAs are additions to homes (for example, sheds/pools/dwelling alterations), additions to commercial/Industrial, and new dwellings (based on June 2021-December 2022 figures), while other applications involve significant new development which could support the community’s economic growth into the future. 

Council’s Director Planning and Environmental Services, Andrew Johns said a national shortage of town planners was putting pressure on councils. This pressure, combined with changes in State Government legislation, as well as a shortage of building certifiers and engineers, meant assessment periods for development applications had increased significantly, he said.

“Unfortunately, the average time it takes for a development application to be assessed has blown out considerably. This is due to both staff shortages and the complex nature of the assessment process,” Mr Johns said.

He said an average of three development applications were lodged with Council each week, coinciding with a period of severely under-resourced staffing.

“Gunnedah Shire Council has been operating with one Senior Development Officer and one Town Planner for some time and has only recently been successful in recruiting a second Town Planner who will start at Council in the new year,” Mr Johns said.

“The severe shortage of town planners available in Australia led us to undertake recruitment in other countries including New Zealand and the United Kingdom, but we have been unsuccessful due to the competitive nature of the industry.

“When the workload is especially high, we have at times employed locum planners, but it is a costly process and is not sustainable in the long-term.

“We are in the process of developing a position for a cadet, with the purpose of recruiting a candidate from the Shire, or one who wants to settle here permanently.”

Council’s Manager Development Assessment, Wade Hudson said more than 50 applications were currently under assessment, and on top of the increasing number of applications, staff received an average of 8-10 customer requests a day.

“Many of these requests are residents or developers wanting to check on where their application is up to in the assessment process, questions about new developments, and exemptions to approve developments,” he said.

“Understandably, there has been frustration from some applicants because they are keen to see their projects progress, but we are hampered by staff resources and limits in complying development provisions.

“We assess DAs as quickly and efficiently as we can, but we’ve got more work to do than we have people to do the work, and a high number of applications currently under assessment.

“Our assessment team also has many other responsibilities which compete for our limited time. These include street trading approvals, preparing and issuing planning certificates, and reviewing and making comment on state significant developments.

“With aspirations of another successful recruitment, we are hopeful that in the new year we can future-proof our planning team and resolve the backlog of development applications so the shire can continue to grow and flourish.”

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