Frustrated members of the public have inundated councillors with complaints about being able to get responses from a council’s planning department.

At July’s meeting of the full Calderdale Council, Liberal Democrat group leader Coun James Baker (Warley) had tabled a question on the issue and it was also raised by Conservative group leader Coun Steven Leigh (Ryburn) in a section where councillors can quiz Cabinet members.

Coun Leigh said across all wards his party’s councillors had received a very high volume of questions and queries about planning – it was “almost overwhelming.”

Issues raised included not being able to get through to speak to anybody and the department not responding to emails.

“Are there some kind of fundamental things going on in that department that we are unaware of that is leading to these problems and extreme difficulties?” he said.

Coun Leigh said if this was the state of planning in the borough, could the department be relied on to safely deliver the borough’s Local Plan.

Coun Baker said he had an 80-year-old constituent calling him and saying they were fed up with the situation with planning and were considering going to a magistrate about the problem.

Cabinet member for Regeneration and Strategy, Coun Jane Scullion (Lab, Luddenden Foot), said she accepted there were problems, and almost a “perfect storm” of them.

Managers were taking action and the new Renegeration and Strategy Director, Shelagh O’Neill, was bringing a fresh eye to looking at situation, and processes were being reviewed.

Recently the COVID-19 pandemic had played a part because staff have had to work from home and accessing the offices where old deeds and the like, used in conveyancing matters, are stored has been difficult, said Coun Scullion.

There were also some unintended consequences from the Government’s first time buyers discount scheme which created a real increase in demand for planners’ services.

Finally, there was also pressure created by the ongoing Local Plan – which if approved by Planning Inspector Katie Child will shape where thousands of new homes might be built into the 2030s – work on which was a big undertaking, with a final stage of hearings pencilled in for September.

As the smallest authority in West Yorkshire the council’s planning department was also suffering from personnel issues – it had committed, fantastic staff, and other authorities poached them away, said Coun Scullion.

It had particularly had an impact on enforcement and also meant some people were taking advantage of the situation.

Additional temporary staff had been brought in to deal with some of the more straightforward issues to try and address the backlog – in enforcement the early stages did not need a fully trained planning officer to deal with matters, she said.