A ‘SIGNIFICANT’ rise in the amount paid to a council in planning fees has left its budget more than a quarter of a million pounds better-off than expected.

Following the end of the third quarter of the financial year, North Dorset District Council is predicting it will have a budget surplus of £274,000 – equivalent to more than five per cent of its annual total.

A report to its cabinet says that a rise in the amount of fees it has received for planning applications is responsible for most of the increase.

The council’s budget for 2018/19 was set at just over £5 million but, at the end of 2018, was £274,171 above where it was expected to be.

In his report, Christian Evans, the council’s financial performance manager, says that there has been “a significant increase” in planning fee income with the department £201,000 better-off at the end of 2018.

This comes despite the cost of employing agency workers and “an increase in competition from the private sector” for its building inspection work.

The report, published ahead of Monday’s cabinet meeting, says: “Income is up on predictions but planning fees are variable throughout the year and there is no guarantee that this will be sustained.

“Although, numbers of applications and associated income appear to be increasing, possibly due to the lack of a current five-year land supply bringing in some additional speculative applications.

“Consultants’ costs will be higher than predicted due to the cost (£40,000) of the November public inquiry at Gillingham.”

The report says that there was “a noticeable increase” in the number of planning applications it received in October and November.

In 2018, the council received 1,903 planning applications, 49 of which were classified as being for ‘major’ developments.

Concern has been raised that the rise in applications could be down to the council’s failure to meet the government’s aim of having a five-year supply of land for housing.

A lack of developments in the district means that it only has 3.3 years’ worth of approved applications which it says could result in a rise in ”speculative” applications.