Sheffield Council specialist planning jobs under threat

Sheffield Council is considering cutting specialist jobs in its town planning department – a decision campaigners say would be a disaster.

Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 12:33 pm
Coun Bob Johnson

Around 40 jobs are believed to be under threat in a restructure led by Colin Walker, the council’s interim chief of planning.

Councillor Douglas Johnson, Green Party leader and City ward representative, said the role of the specialists was vital to making Sheffield an attractive, safe and accessible place for the public and said the proposals could weaken planning regulation.

He said: “I haven’t seen anything that would justify going ahead with this. There is no genuine cost saving, it seems to be completely ideological to favour big developers.

Sheffield Town Hall

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“So the real reason is because of political ideology, it’s about removing all the barriers to the free market that really big developers want. Big developers lobby councils a lot to try and get them to back off with their planning controls. You’ve got to remember why the planning function is there in the first place – to protect the public in every way and make sure the public has a good quality of life and there isn’t a complete free for all for people with enough money to be able to build what they like where they like.

“It’s been a bit ‘hush hush’, staff can’t really talk about it because they’ve been told they can’t. All we know is it’s gone into a collective dispute where the unions are making a collective grievance on behalf of staff and that’s ongoing.”

The jobs thought to be under threat include access officers, the urban design team, conservation officers, landscape architects, the dangerous structures unit, people who inspect and certify sports buildings like football stadiums, and others.

At the last full council meeting, Coun Bob Johnson, cabinet member for development, was asked about the job losses and said he was in dispute about what was going to happen.

He said: “Unfortunately we are still in a collective dispute with the planning service following the restructure so it would be really difficult and probably ill-advised for me to comment publicly until such time as that dispute has been resolved.”

Among the jobs under threat are two part-time access officers. Disability Sheffield has launched a petition to save the roles.

James Martin, of Disability Sheffield, said: “It can’t be cut anymore because it would just become unsustainable.

“It’s clear from the material we have seen they think there’s no impact on disabled people at all which is just indefensible and incompetent maybe.

“We’ve not had any meeting with the head of planning or the cabinet member responsible or anything like that.

“One of the main things you lose with any disability or impairment is time. So if you don’t have people who are able to skillfully stand up for the kind of things disabled people need then it just becomes another penalty on life to slow you down and stop you from participating as fully as you should be in work and leisure and so on. It’s a massive issue for justice.”

Coun Johnson said one of many things Sheffield access officers were responsible for was introducing tactile paving in front of tram stops, which has since been replicated in other parts of the country and another specialist group, the urban design team was instrumental in creating the Winter Gardens – which is now a well known Sheffield landmark.

Councillor Bob Johnson, cabinet member for development, said: “Sheffield City Council has faced austerity for many years as a result of central government consistently reducing our funding, this has resulted in cuts to many council services.

“We are consulting with officers in the planning team on proposals to make the required savings put upon us. Our priority and main concern is our members of staff that are affected at this time, and all their concerns will be discussed prior to any decisions being made.”