ALLEGED weak enforcement of planning policies is seriously undermining faith in the city council, a meeting heard.

Developers are exploiting the weakness to ignore planning policies across the district.

The enforcement team at the city council has seen several staff departures and vacancies creating a backlog of work.

The opposition Conservative group put forward a notice of motion to raise the issue at the full Council meeting.

Cllr Caroline Brook, member for Denmead, said: "During lockdown the reputation of both planning and enforcement has grown increasingly negative. The complete change of staff in the enforcement team has not gone unnoticed among our residents and in the parishes. Alongside lockdown reducing visibility of staff has led to a real lack of continuity with some enforcement cases. This in turn has meant the perception of the enforcement team is at rock bottom. There was a point where staff were not up to speed entirely on all the enforcement cases. Although it is now fully staffed the detailed historical knowledge for some cases has been lost along with the staff who had been there for a long time."

Cllr Brook warned: "The reputation will lead to more planning breaches if the assumption is they can get away with it."

A case causing widespread anger is Nick Butler who is trying to develop a paddock on Dradfield Lane in Soberton, as reported in the Chronicle this year.

Cllr Vicky Weston, who represents the Central Meon Valley, said the public now believed the council was not adhering to its own policies. Referring to the Dradfield Lane case, although not by name, she said: "One case reported multiple times in the Hampshire Chronicle has seen wilful breaches taking place. Evidence is supplied and yet no action is taken.

"What message is this council giving out? We need firm decisions and effective actions to show this council is serious about climate change and the environment. The council should support law-abiding citizens."

Cllr Michael Kurn, member for Bishop's Waltham, said The Paddocks, a Traveller site in Durley, has seen enforcement inquiries but another caravan was recently moved onto the site.

"Enforcement is a huge issue in rural communities," he said.

Cllr Sue Cook, Colden Common and Twyford, said: "I'm told the 'Winchester way' is to discuss things. We have done enough discussing. People now want action and prosecutions."

Cllr Russell Gordon-Smith, Cabinet member whose brief includes planning, defended the department but admitted the enforcement because of staff shortages has been a "weak point".

He added: "Our legal team have to work within the law and follow the rules. The opposition don't have to adhere to the rules and that is a big limitation."

The motion stated: “That this Council commits to providing more resources to the Planning and Enforcement functions to enable more effective enforcement to protect the Winchester District, while also providing sufficient resource to deliver an efficient and effective planning service.”

The ruling Liberal Democrat group amended it to remove the commitment to spend more money and it was unanimously approved by both parties.