PLANNING services at Dorset Council have massively improved after being hit by “a perfect storm” of problems after the new council was created in 2019.

Council leader Spencer Flower says the early work to converge services from the previous six councils has helped the current overall performance of the planning process – but acknowledged that there is still “a little way to go,” despite spending over £1million making changes.

Head of planning Mike Garrity said his 200-strong department suffered problems what he described as “a perfect storm” in the early days as it struggled to join up the services offered by the previous councils and bring IT systems together – and was then hit by Covid which, in turn, brought forward a massive increase in planning applications which the council struggled to keep up with and had to taken on agency staff to help cope.

He said the service is now on a more even keel although transformation work to make it even more streamlined is continuing.

He said the changes now in place have allowed officers the time to discuss applications before they are formally submitted which, in turn, speeds up the process of deciding applications.

The chief officer said all too often applications were made to the council which were not fully ready to be validated and had to be re-submitted. He said this had now reached the level of being a significant percentage of new planning requests.

Cllr Jane Somper said one area of concern from residents was what was often seen as a lack of action over enforcement, although Mr Garrity said many problems were resolved by negotiation, rather than jumping straight into legal action.

“I am sure all members (councillors) have issues over enforcement action, ongoing and current… I wonder if there might be a better way of updating residents and members as the enforcement investigation is underway? It often goes very quiet and then there is a gap. It would be helpful if there was a way to improve communication,” she said.