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Cheshire East Council is considering rejecting planning applications if the correct information isn’t filled in within a certain time to help clear the backlog, writes Belinda Ryan.

This would mean applicants would then have to submit a new application.

The council deals with 6,000 applications a year, one of the highest of all local authorities in the country.

A 15% increase during the pandemic, combined with a shortage of planning officers, has resulted in a huge backlog.

It’s feared it will take months to clear.

Now a members’ advisory group has been set up to review the planning department.

Panel chair Tony Dean (Knutsford, Con) told an environment and communities committee: “This particular council is either the highest or very close to the highest in terms of numbers of planning applications that they get in the country.”

He said the cost of dealing with applications was set nationally.

“At the moment we are spending a huge amount more on dealing with planning applications than the money we get in.

“Jayne Traverse [executive director, place] discovered one of the things which is happening at the moment is that we are being exceptionally nice to applicants who do not fill in the right information.

“We go back, we ask them for more, they send it, it’s still not right… and this is extending sometimes the application time.

“I’m not saying it’s not sometimes our fault that it takes too long, but sometimes it is that problem of getting the right information .

“There are certain other councils, not a million miles away from here, who have a cut off when they just reject it – if you haven’t got the right information after three weeks it’s rejected and somebody has to come again with a new planning application.

“That is something which she’s seriously considering and I think would probably focus applicants’ minds a little and might help the backlog as well.”

Salary levels of planning officers will also be looked at during the review as the council attempts to recruit more staff and keep them.

Planning officers are in short supply for both local authority posts and in the private sector.

Last year, Cheshire East recruited a planning assistant who left within six weeks to join a private company.

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