Strategic Environment Covid Update Report
The Chair expressed his delight with how the Council had coped during the pandemic and asked about changes that had or would come about as a result of lessons learned during this time.
The Assistant Director (Planning) highlighted a change in Planning Self Service as it had been recognised the residents and businesses wanted instant access to planning applications and advice. The pandemic had made this accessibility more important as some residents had not been comfortable about leaving their homes. The service had received a high number of phone calls in the run up to Christmas and a rota of two officers a day to be present in the Civic had been in place for a number of months since the start of the first lockdown. However, due to Government Guidance to work at home wherever possible, officers had no choice but to divert to the Customer Contact Centre, as a result of the post Christmas lockdown, due to the lack of lines available for diversion on the Council’s telephony system. Business mobiles had been issued to Planning Enforcement officers. There was now also increased pressure on the team to do GIS work. Records were still card based so the service was looking to the IT team to move records over to a GIS based service.
The Assistant Director (Communities) advised that the key lesson had been for the service to capitalise on information from businesses particularly micro businesses as this information revealed a great deal about how the economy of the Borough functioned.
The following points were raised during discussion on this subject:
· A comment was made about the need for business mobiles for all officers and that this had only happened in Match 2021. Whilst all the hard work of officers during the pandemic was applauded, communications during this time for Members trying to contact officers by telephone had been terrible. In addition, the Customer Contact Centre did not know who was in and who was not and a schedule of officers in the building should have been prepared. The Chair responded that whilst he shared the Councillor’s frustration but the speed needed to respond to the pandemic had to be recognised and lessons had since been learned.
· Following a request with regard to the Denton Masterplan, the Chair assured the Committee that information would be supplied to all Members as soon as it became available.
· Following a question on whether officers would be rota’d to work at the Civic Centre two to three days a week, the Assistant Director (Planning) advised that since March 2020 two members of staff had been rota’d to be in the office to answer telephones. However, as previously mentioned, after Christmas all officers had to work at home where possible. The current Roadmap to Recovery stated that people should continue to work at home where possible and whilst officers continued to be happy to combine working from home and working in the office, the Council’s approach had to be compatible with Government Guidance.
Resolved the report be noted.