A VOW has been made to get on top of planning enforcement in Mid Devon to stop breaches spiralling out of control, despite the last remaining officer in the department quitting.

Mid Devon District Council, which is one of the 73 per cent of local authorities nationally struggling to recruit enforcement officers, is having to find agency and temporary staff to do the work, which comes at a higher cost.

Currently the council has nearly 300 “live” cases, although the number of high risk, complex ones has reduced, members of the council’s scrutiny committee were told this week.

The council operated with one instead of two officers for most of 2023 and now has no-one in the job.

Scrutiny committee chairman Cllr Rachel Gilmour (Lib Dem, Clare and Shuttern) said the service is not where it should be, and her call for improvement over the next 12 months was supported by all members.

Officers said they had managed to recruit an agency officer and would be conducting a high-level review with the intention of replacing permanent staff.

Planning officers can have additional training so they can specialise, but the take-up had been low.

Members said it took “a certain person” to be an enforcement officer as it is more of an investigative role which is “challenging” and where good negotiation skills are necessary.

The council was asked to publicise its successful enforcement cases to deter people from building without planning permission and causing harm to the environment and neighbours.

Cases could be time-consuming and as the service is not chargeable, authorities had to take a view about how they resource planning departments to accommodate enforcement activity.

Cllr Steven Keable (Lib Dem, Taw Vale), cabinet member for planning and economic regeneration, said it should be noted that Mid Devon is the top-performing authority in the South West for processing planning applications within eight weeks.

He said problems in recruiting people for “professional grades” of employment was a national issue and the Royal Navy has such a problem it is having to decommission ships.

“We will all be working together to bring enforcement up to scratch in the next 12 months,” said Cllr Gilmour.

Alison Stephenson