The chairman of the Local Government Association has called on the government to arrest the fall in the number of planning officers by helping graduate planners pay off college debts
Sir Jeremy Beecham told delegates at a conference on planning, sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasury, that funds ought to be made available to assist student planners both while at university and afterwards when paying off loans.

He said: "In terms of the future of the profession we should be considering bursaries and/or paying off student loans in return for contracted periods of employment." He said such a scheme ought to be funded by the private and public sector.

Figures show a shortfall of 4000 planners, with student numbers continuing to fall. Eight in 10 authorities have experienced skill shortages, while 87% have had difficulty with recruitment and retention.

Beecham proposed that temporary transfers between planning and industry ought to take place to "engender better understanding of the role of each partner". He also urged the government to continue with schemes to offer further training to planners.

We should consider bursaries or paying off loans for contracted periods of employment

Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman, LGA

Beecham made his plea as the government committed £350m to improving customer service in planning.

The government also announced that it was preparing proposals for a national training centre for regeneration officials. This will complement the centres of excellence being set up by the nine regional development agencies for planners to develop their skills.

Sir John Egan, the government's skills tsar, said the centres would be devoted to building up both technical skills and generic leadership skills among planners.