HOLD ups in reaching decisions on planning applications have left BCP Council at risk of national intervention, its leader has warned.

Between July and September it failed to hit any of its time targets with “considerable” falls in some areas following a post-lockdown backlog.

With rates now below the level at which the government can begin making decisions instead, council leader Drew Mellor said this was “not far away” unless improvements were made.

Of the applications determined by the council between July and September, fewer than 70 per cent were done within required timeframes.

The percentage of major schemes decided in time fell from more than 85 per cent at the start of 2019 to 72 per cent while for minor schemes it dropped from 83 per cent to 67 per cent.

Applications put into other categories fell by 27 per cent over the same period.

A council report says this in now below the level at which the government can intervene with applications decided nationally, rather than by the council.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting of the council’s scrutiny board, Cllr Mellor admitted there was “a problem”.

“It was always going to be difficult bringing three different ways of working across [from the previous councils] but we now need to get it quickly,” he said.

“We’ve been talking about a significant investment in regeneration – and more – and having a planning department like this is not useful to our priorities.

“There’s been no national intervention but, let’s be honest, if we keep performing as we are it won’t be far away."

He said the department – along with children’s services which, last month, was heavily criticised by Ofsted – was being prioritised in its merger work following the 2019 formation of the council.

Planning committee chairman, councillor David Kelsey, said decisions were being delayed “drastically” by the existence of separate planning systems for each town.

Responding to concerns the council could be “designated” by the government due to the slow speed of its decision-making, Cllr Mellor said there had yet to be any involvement nationally.

Board member councillor Millie Earl asked whether the council could employ more planning officers to help clear the “large backlog” caused by the first national coronavirus lockdown.

Cllr Mellor said the merger work was the focus but that the council was also looking at “potential investment” in the department.

“If this is a financial problem we will put more money into it but it isn’t just that – it never is,” he said.