The Scottish Government has been forced to deny a sick-note tag after a second council complained of a key economic report being pushed back.
Lesley Laird, Fife Council’s depute leader, raised concerns about a triple delay to the Kingdom’s Local Development Plan, which has been sitting with the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) for more than a year.
It comes after The Courier revealed Perth and Kinross Council officials blamed “significant resource issues due to staff illness and retirements” at DPEA for the TayPlan potentially falling behind schedule, although ministers insist that remains on track.
Councillor Laird said: “It wasn’t a surprise that the FIFEplan has gone over the DPEA’s target date of 1 June, 2016 due to the size of Fife, number of settlements and complexity of some of the issues in our community. We have now been informed by the DPEA on three occasions that the examination process has been further extended.
“As well as creating uncertainty for communities and developers alike, the growing timescale for the examination is likely to lead to a significant cost increase for the council, as we are required to bear the cost of the examination. Our current estimate is that the examination will cost £180,000, as reporter time is charged at £400 per day.
“I have asked the Scottish Government, to provide clarity on when the FIFEplan will now be approved, and in view of the significant costs overrun, if it would consider bearing the cost of this examination to avoid it having to be met by Fife council tax payers.”
Ms Laird has now written to Kevin Stewart, the Minister for Local Government and Housing, to raise the authority’s concerns.
Liberal Democrat leader and North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie said the latest revelation proved DPEA “is on its knees” and claimed the problem extends nationwide.
He said: “Reports of delays are emerging from multiple areas of the country and these delays risk the timely progress of local development plans.
“The Fife Plan process is the subject of considerable debate in communities and it is essential for business to see progress too.
“The SNP Government need to step up and explain how they are intending to fix this problem.”
Senior Scottish Government sources insisted DPEA sickness absence rates are lower than the average across the civil service north of the border.
A spokeswoman said the department is currently dealing with “an exceptionally high workload” and has recently recruited an extra nine self-employed reporters to try not to fall further behind.
She added: “However, the reporters considering the Fife Local Development Plan have had to issue over 100 requests for more information because of insufficient information submitted by the council.
“This is an unprecedented number and has inevitably had an impact on the length of time being taken to conduct the examination, which is expected to be submitted to the local authority at the end of October.”