PLANNING services at BCP Council are improving – but are still not at the performance levels the authority is aiming for.

Deputy council leader Cllr Philip Broadhead says progress is being made despite a 20 per cent increase in the number of planning applications being received across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.

He said that the increases showed the area was “on the move” but at the same time the additional workload put pressure on the planning team when they were also trying to bring three teams and IT systems together from the former councils and clear a backlog of applications.

“We are still nowhere near our aspiration of being one of the best planning services for an authority of this size,” said Cllr Broadhead.

The council is being asked to agree an extra £334,000 this year to recruit 29 additional staff and to pay for short-term agency staff to fill gaps in the service.

Planning service director Colin Walker told the council’s overview and scrutiny committee that the service was being ‘robust’ to meet eight or thirteen week deadlines for general applications, although more complex applications would usually take longer, mainly by agreement with the applicant.

He said that work was being done to ensure that the paid for pre-application process meant more requests for consent were suitable for consideration from the outset – rather than go through a process of almost endless amendments which slowed the process down and was usually not helpful to anyone.

Mr Walker said there was now a better understanding of what was needed to be done to improve and the council was in the process of recruiting additional people to the team, some specifically to help with the preparation of the council’s first Local Plan.

Cllr Vikki Slade said she was still concerned by residents who were suffering what she described as ‘last minute decisions’ made close to, or beyond, the deadline. She outlined a case where a relatively minor application was still undecided after a year and six months.

She said there was still a case for improved communications to let local people know about planning applications close to their homes or businesses.

Committee chairman Cllr Steve Bartlett asked for further planning details for a further review in February to see if progress was being made. He asked for information on delayed decisions, appeals for non-determination and complaints as well as information about how many applications were decided on time.