Lack of staff means Hertfordshire County Council restricts flood advice to 'major' planning applications
"We are focusing on larger planning applications, and even then, can only respond to some"
Hertfordshire county council has warned local planning authorities that it may not respond to consultations in relation to the flood risk posed to - or by - proposed dwellings.
Whenever a planning application is lodged with a district or borough council it triggers a consultation with nearby residents and other authorities - that can include the local lead flood authority (LLFA).
Typically Hertfordshire County Council, in its role as LLFA, would consider those applications - submitting objections or suggesting conditions, in cases where the proposed development would be at risk of flooding or of creating a flooding issue elsewhere.
But now the county council has written to all 10 district and borough councils in the county to tell them it cannot currently respond to consultations for 'minor' developments.
And, says the letter, they are 'triaging' and then 'prioritising' major developments too - which they count as developments or more than 10 dwellings or 0.5 hectares or more.
This means, says the letter, that for 'many applications' the county council will not be able to provide detailed comments or input.
And, it says, the county council will be unable to respond to any new consultations, until they have taken time to review processes and explore recruitment, including the increased use of consultants.
According to the county council the position reflects 'on-going resourcing pressure'.
The letter highlights the county council's efforts to recruit four sustainable drainage (SuDs) officers.
But despite trying to recruit to the posts 'several times' since March, it says no applicant has been 'appointable'.
As a result the council has re-advertised and is said to have increased the use of consultants.
Liberal Democrat spokesperson for environment and waste Cllr Steve Jarvis says a failure by the county council to consider these planning applications could store up additional flooding issues for the future.
He says that as part of the LLFA role, officers should be checking planning proposals to ensure they do 'what's required' - and that drainage arrangements on proposed developments don't increase flooding problems.
And while he says he understands there is a shortage in people with the right expertise, he says the situation is 'not satisfactory'.
He points to a recent 'scrutiny' by councillors that had highlighted proposals for the county council to provide chargeable advice to developers, in a bid to improve standards of flood protection.
And he says the current situation essentially 'goes the other way'.
Commenting on the situation, a spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We currently have a number of vacancies in the team that provides flooding, drainage and watercourse advice for planning applications which we are finding it very challenging to fill.
"This means we are having to prioritise our work while we try and recruit staff to those roles.
"We are focusing on larger planning applications, and even then, can only respond to some.
"Once we have recruited and trained new staff to the vacant positions, we will be able to resume providing advice as normal but unfortunately that is likely to take some time.”
And the council's executive member for the environment Cllr Eric Buckmaster said: ‘’As discussed at full council the Lead Local Flood Authority for Hertfordshire will be bidding for additional resource through the budget process and doing everything we can to fill vacancies, but acknowledge the lack of available staff in the sector, which is the biggest current issue.
"I am confident that our officers will do everything they can to review the processes and options, and the actions they are taking to triage are the most pragmatic given the current circumstances."