Jim recalls eventful 20-year career as he retires from Melton Council

He has worked in a prominent role at Melton Borough Council for almost 20 years and has been part of a team which has been faced by some enormous challenges, including the devastating 2008 fire which destroyed the offices, the project to finally deliver a bypass for the town and a pandemic crisis.

By Nick Rennie
Friday, 25th February 2022, 10:50 am
Updated Friday, 25th February 2022, 10:57 am
Jim Worley, Melton Council's then head of regulatory services, hold a copy of Melton's draft Local Plan document at a public consultation event back in 2016 EMN-220221-113637001
Jim Worley, Melton Council's then head of regulatory services, hold a copy of Melton's draft Local Plan document at a public consultation event back in 2016 EMN-220221-113637001

But Jim Worley is now retiring from the council and his current job as assistant director for planning and delivery and is looking forward to leaving the many meetings and long days in the office in favour of spending more time with his family.

I caught up with Jim to talk about the issues he has faced in the job over a period when there have been many changes in local government and a host of projects which will have a lasting impact on the lives of Melton people. This is what he told me:

Nick Rennie: When did you start working at Melton Borough Council and what was your first role?

Jim Worley (extreme left) pictured with Melton Borough Council collegues during a meeting in 2008 shortly after the fire which burned down their offices, Christine Marshall, Malise Graham, Lynn Aisbett, Dawn Garton, Angela tebbutt, Keith Aubrey, Colin Wilkinson, Paul Evans and Richard Barker 03/06/2008 EMN-220221-121550001

Jim Worley: I joined Melton Borough Council in 2004 and my leaving day will be 18 years almost to the day. It sounds like a careful plan but it’s just a coincidence. In those days I was ‘Head of Physical Environment’ but job titles change and so do duties. I have had many, and at times have been responsible for our Environmental Health and Waste services as well as the core planning and building control functions and emergency response.

NR: What have been the main changes in the planning regulations since you started and what are the main challenges you have faced as a result of the changes?

JW: The planning system is constantly changing, and the government tends to add more layers of complexity to the system and rarely takes anything away. This continues and they announced radical changes in last year’s white paper, but we have yet to feel the full force of that. Keeping up with all this has been difficult.

You constantly need to adapt and we have made changes to provide applicants help to navigate through these complex requirements in response to this.

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There was a definite shift around 2012 when the emphasis moved from not just ‘providing’ but to delivery too – we became held to account for the actions of others - developers - and failure of delivery would have serious consequences for our communities.

Fortunately, at Melton our delivery has been good - recently a planning consultant told me we have the strongest position he has come across - and we have steered well clear of these dangers. However, they remain out there, and other councils across the country have not been so fortunate.

NR: How has new technology changed the way you work over the years?

JW: Melton has always been keen to innovate, it’s one of our core values. We were one of the first councils to enable planning applications to be submitted and viewed online; we were fourth in the country out of over 350, I believe. It seems so old hat now, but at the time we felt very cutting edge. We were also ahead of the curve on all things mobile – we were accruing the benefits of remote working, homeworking and hot desking a decade or so before it was forced on others by the pandemic. Much of this was to do with the fire that destroyed the old Nottingham Road offices in 2008 in which the planning department lost, literally, everything and had to start afresh.

Jim Worley (left) pictured during taks between Melton Borough Council and the local health authority on the need for a second town GP surgery EMN-220222-125303001

NR: Can you name some memorable projects you have worked on in the Melton borough through your work and what challenges did they involve?

JW: The fire at the council offices was one of many emergencies I have been involved in, alongside several floods and other incidents and, of course, the Covid pandemic for which we have had responsibility for business grants, community hubs and setting up the testing and vaccination centres to name but a few – our teams have always risen to the challenge. The ‘day job’, of course, continues alongside.

NR: What are you most proud of achieving at the council?

JW: In the early 2000s we became a hotspot of interest for the windfarm industry. We developed a strong track record of resisting the worst examples in planning inquiries and were soon being invited around the country to share our experiences and good practice with other councils

I had a large role in the development of the new offices on Burton Street following the fire in 2008, and remember well the heated debates about whether a traditional approach or a modern ‘statement building’ should be designed. Opinions continue to be made about this to this day, but as I reflect on the building we have at Parkside, it is a sustainable and energy efficient building that is a great environment to work in.

NR: What have been the biggest challenges for you in your career at Melton council?

JW: The Melton Local Plan from 2014 to 2018 was a massive undertaking. It was clear we were had to meet unprecedented demand for growth but also a deficiency in any infrastructure to support it. The process for producing even a simple Local Plan can test the patience of a saint, but ours satisfied government scrutiny, relatively unscathed, in October 2018.

The Local plan has squared the circle between growth and infrastructure, but it wasn’t written as a book to gather dust on a shelf, it’s there to make a difference to our communities.

In the last three years, or so, immense effort has been made by Melton Borough Council staff to secure funding for the necessary infrastructure from government, developers and the county council. This amounts to an investment of some £160 million, which I would be surprised can be matched by any town of our size, and very soon we will see work begin on the Melton bypass, formally ‘the MMDR’, to be completed in 2025, and the planned new schools.

Planning as an activity is always demanding because it is so often controversial. Since 2010 the funding of councils has been squeezed year-on-year. I think the correct figure is that we receive now 40 per cent less funding than in 2010 with many difficult decisions made regarding cuts to staff and services.

It’s in this context that we have been working and I believe a strong testament to all involved that there is a record of achievement.

NR Finally Jim, what prompted your decision to retire and how do you plan to spend your retirement years?

JW: I have been joking that 33 years in the planning department is enough for anyone, several departments in my case.

I think, like many others, the pandemic has made us think about what is important in life.

I have grown-up children and we are now blessed with wonderful grandchildren - more time with them and less in planning Inquires, and the like, seems an attractive option.

We love to travel, so hopefully the future holds more discoveries at home and abroad, more children’s games, more family visits - and less spreadsheets, accounts and committee meetings late into the night.