Environment Minister Geoffrey Boot has praised his department’s ’great leaps forward’ on planning enforcement.

Mr Boot was giving evidence in front of the environment and infrastructure policy review committee of Tynwald, chaired by Onchan MHK Rob Callister.

The Minister (pictured right) appeared alongside Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture chief executive Richard Lole and director of planning and building control Jennifer Chance.

Mr Callister asked Mr Boot if enforcement was of lower priority before he became Minister in 2016.

Mr Boot said that being non-mandatory, planning enforcement had ’long been under-resourced with a single enforcement officer holding the role for many years’.

Mr Boot added: ’Support was clearly needed and I understand a part-time support officer was provided some point around 2015 before my administration.’

He said there was a UK-wide shortage of planning enforcement staff with ’much demand’ for their services and that retaining staff can also be difficult.

DEFA has made changes to make the positions ’more attractive to recruit to’, he said.

Resources

Mr Callister explained the committee had received submissions from a number of people and interest groups on the matter of planning enforcement.

He said the common themes of these letters were ’a lack of response, slow to take action, policy not fit for purpose, a delay in dealing with complaints, a lack of engagement and a lack of communications and updates from the department and a lack of consistencies in the approach taken by the department’.

Mr Boot said there is ’obviously’ a sense of perspective in all situations relating to planning from ’winners and losers’. H owever, he added ’all complaints are investigated’.

Miss Chance said she was ’aware of the views’ but the department was seeking to address the issues.

She added that there had been historic issues, but these were mostly due to ’resource issues’ that DEFA is trying to address.

And she said there was a public ’misconception’ about the powers planning department has.

Mr Boot said that austerity had meant ’some UK authorities have carried out no enforcement at all’ and that previously the lack of resources Miss Chance spoke of had affected the department’s capabilities in the island.

He added: ’Now, about 25 to 30% of our staff in the planning department, active planning officers, are involved in enforcement, so we are making great leaps forward.’

Improvements are also being made to DEFA’s data collection and will focus on making more people aware of the planning department’s powers and capabilities.