Fife planners' mock exercise prepared them for COVID working from home

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Planners in Fife were well prepared to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic - having trained in remote working just months before the virus hit Scotland.

It has emerged that officers in Fife Council took part in a mock exercise codenamed ‘Inferno’ that was designed to make them adapt to new and unfamiliar work environments while keeping the planning system moving.

The training, held in October 2019, simulated a systems outage due to a fire - meaning staff had to figure out how to work without their usual tools at their disposal.

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Five months later they were putting their learning into practice when coronavirus forced them to work from home, forming WhatsApp communication groups and identifying how to make a planning system work with the majority of staff based out of living rooms and kitchens.

Fife CouncilFife Council
Fife Council

Pam Ewen, head of planning at Fife Council, said: "This (time) period just caught the start of the pandemic so we felt it was really important to capture how we responded to that and colleagues responded brilliantly.

"We moved quickly into remote working and we continue to learn from that."

Councillors on Fife's Economy Tourism Strategic Planning and Transportation Sub-Committee heard today how the planning system had scored highly in a review of its performance during 2019/20.

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Housing minister Kevin Stewart's analysis scored Fife positively in nine out of 13 relevant areas, with officers praised for how they engaged with applicants, enforced planning regulations and negotiated expected financial contributions from developers for large schemes.

However, concerns remain over the time taken to make a decision on major applications such as large housing developments and out-of-town retail outlets.

On average, Scottish councils would take 33.5 weeks to rule on these types of proposals. Fife typically took 64.9 weeks, or a year and three months, to make similar decisions.

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Labour councillor Altany Craik, convener of the committee, said that keeping the planning system moving during the pandemic was essential to support business and encourage local investment.

He noted: "We would like to thank local people and businesses for their understanding as we adapt to new ways of working.”

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