MID Devon District Council is hoping to put its planning enforcement woes behind it with possible recruitment of new staff that could take its team back up to full strength.

The district council’s last remaining specialist officer in the team left earlier this year.

Now its scrutiny committee has been told that the council is about to advertise for two permanent planning enforcement officers who will support an agency officer drafted in at the start of the year to partially fill the void.

The local authority has roughly 300 outstanding planning enforcement cases, but considers only a small percentage of these are “high risk”.

Councillor Steve Keable (Liberal Democrat, Taw Vale), cabinet member for planning and economic regeneration, said one of the two permanent roles would include extra responsibilities, meaning it should attract a more qualified person.

“The adverts will be for an enforcement officer and a senior enforcement officer,” he said.

“Both were previously at the same salary grade, but the additional responsibilities of the senior post have resulted in a higher payment through the job evaluation process required in local government.”

He added that the agency worker was contracted until June, and that the contract for that individual “could be extended if needed”.

However, he reiterated a message that council officers have stressed before, notably the difficulty of hiring such officers. “Nationally, there is a shortage of qualified people,” he said.

“By uplifting the responsibilities to a senior enforcement officer for one post, it is anticipated that more applicants will be attracted.”

Cllr Rachel Gilmour (Liberal Democrat, Clare and Shuttern), who chairs the scrutiny committee, pledged last month that she would push to get the enforcement service improved in the next 12 months, and reacted positively to the news about the new jobs.

“I want it on record that our efforts mean we have finally pushed things forward and now we are in a position where we have gone from having no enforcement officers to three [including the agency worker],” she said.

And in a rebuttal to Ian Liddell-Grainger MP, the Conservative standing for the new Tiverton and Minehead seat in the next general election, she added: “And the current Conservative member for Bridgwater and West Somerset can shut up too.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger is a regular critic of Mid Devon’s Lib Dem administration.

Earlier this month, he said Mid Devon District Council had “gone beyond a joke”, partly because it had, at that time, no planning enforcement officers as “all the staff have gone”.

He claimed Cllr Gilmour was “doing nothing to scrutinise any of this”, referencing planning enforcement and the council’s move to three-weekly bin collections.

Bradley Gerrard