CITY of York Council has come under fire for paying almost £3,000 a week to a top official to shepherd the controversial Local Plan through the planning process.

The council has been slammed for appointing an interim director on £700 a day for a year, following the departure of its last City and Environmental Services director in March.

Sarah Tanburn started work on May 6, with responsibilities including the oversight of the Local Plan until it goes before a Government inspector later this year.

But now a Freedom of Information request has forced the council to reveal details of the four-day-a-week contract of Ms Tanburn, which show she will be paid £700 per day, the equivalent of £130,000 over 47 weeks a year. Opposition councillors have slammed what they call profligacy and lack of transparency in decisions about the appointment.

Labour and City of York Council defended the position, with chief executive Kersten England saying the council needed to find someone with the necessary expertise.

Conservative leader Cllr Chris Steward said: “This appointment was made through the so-called ‘interim market’ whereby a small number of candidates are available at maximum rates for short-term executive appointments. Quite frankly, in this day and age there are better and more cost-effective ways to find a talented individual to fill this type of position until a permanent director can be appointed.”

The FOI documents show just six applications were received for the job, and only three people interviewed.

The Liberal Democrat’s Cllr Keith Aspden said: “With frontline services being cut for residents, many will wonder how this wage can be justified. What is perhaps even more concerning though is that the details of the wage have only come to light after a resident submitted an FOI request.

“At the very least we need a more open and transparent approach.”

The FOI documents also show the decision to appoint Ms Tanburn was taken by council chief executive Kersten England, and Cllr Steward has hit out at the fact elected councillors were not consulted.

He said: “Surely, if this position is important enough to attract a per diem fee of £700 it is important enough to deserve the transparency that comes with the involvement of elected councillors.

“We’re afraid CYC have erred badly in this instance, and this episode shows Labour’s total contempt for York residents’ hard earned money.”

The council has defended Ms Tanburn’s appointment, saying they needed to find someone with expertise in the area of local plans.

Kersten England said: “There are times when it is necessary to utilise external expertise; when we do not have the expertise internally or to ensure that the delivery of our services continue when a vacancy arises. This is always subject to the proper procurement processes, undertaken with value for money in mind and on this occasion under the authority delegated to me under the constitution.”

The previous City and Environmental Services director, Darren Richardson, was appointed in July 2012, on a reported salary of between £88,000 and £102,000. He announced his departure in March to take up a post with Orkney Islands Council.

A spokesman for the ruling Labour group on the council also defended the decision, claiming the interim appointment in reality costs less than the permanent post it has replaced.