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Les Sparks flies in to combat Nottingham planning exodus

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English Heritage and CABE commissioner Les Sparks has been drafted into Nottingham City Council to stem an exodus of staff in the urban and conservation planning department. He has also committed himself to raising the 'average' standard of architecture in the city.

In the past 12 months, the department has lost 'a number' of senior people including team leaders, according to Sparks, who was Birmingham City Council's director of planning and architecture until 1999.

Sparks' brief includes streamlining the city council's planning procedures, which have been heavily attacked by developers as woefully slow and convoluted. Sparks is especially concerned that large-scale projects are being jeopardised by the planning department's staff shortages.

'There is a distinct lack of staff with design skills and this has had a knock-on effect in delaying planning applications for large-scale projects, ' said Sparks, who will be employed by Nottingham as a consultant for at least 12 months.

'My role will be to fill that gap, but also iron out problems in the city council's planning procedures that are leading to uncertainty over large-scale building projects, ' he said.

'Aside from Michael Hopkins' Inland Revenue building, Nottingham has not distinguished itself in terms of new buildings. Far too much is of average quality. My aim is to analyse what needs to be done to get practice and procedure working again, and to pave a closer working relationship between the department and councillors.'

Birmingham City Council is to readvertise its £70,000-a-year position of city architect after some of the shortlisted candidates dropped out. The job, advertised in the AJ on 26 April, called for an individual to lead the city's new urban design department - a team of 300 architects, building surveyors, engineers and maintenance staff.

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