Surge in construction industry places extra pressure on Dorset Council planning services

planning blueprintTHE construction industry has seen a huge surge during the pandemic, but the demand is placing pressure on Dorset Council’s planning services.

Homeowners with more cash in their pockets than normal are considering extensions or changes to their homes because working from home has become the future.

Last month planning applications rose in every English region compared to July 2020. This follows a bumper start to the year when February saw a 25 per cent increase in applications, compared to the same month in 2020, across the country.

Throughout 2020 there was a 36 per cent increase in the number of planning applications, compared to 2019.

This activity has led to a huge demand on Dorset Council’s planning services.

When the new unitary authority formed in April 2019 from former district, borough and county councils, there were six different planning teams working on different systems.

Work started on moving these teams into one and to start transferring 47 years of records held by each area onto a new system.

In spring of 2020 the team had been formed and areas that needed more support had been identified.

The discovery phase of the planning convergence and transformation was complete, and the team were ready to transfer the first area to the new system.

Fast forward to the present; four out of six areas have been transferred, with the next planned for early October.

Staff have been recruited to fill vacant posts and teams are using the new joined up system.

The council says that efficiencies have been made along the way by looking at the service that’s provided, what is legally required and what things have always been done that take time and are not mandatory.

This has resulted in some services being slimmed down, such as no longer sending neighbour letters, changing the way notices are published and automating lists for parish councillors, so officers can focus on planning applications.

Cllr David Walsh, Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for planning said: “We ask our residents to bear with us, we know it is frustrating, but these delays are being felt across the country and it out of our control.

“It is incredibly busy, and we are working on all applications in date order. So, I ask for people not to chase their application, by phone or email. Doing this only takes up officer time that could be spent on progressing work.

“We have kept fellow councillors, town and parish councils and property agents informed of the situation by newsletters and emails and will continue to keep them up to date.”

Another area that has seen a huge increase in demand is land searches and charges. The stamp duty holiday encouraged people to move home to new areas to give a better life balance.

This national incentive to help the property market has meant that the number of searches needed to be carried out have almost doubled.

There are some areas that are not seeing such delays. The Building Control service have been plan checking and visiting sites throughout the pandemic to ensure that buildings are constructed to national building regulations.

They have filled vacant positions and have also recruited two apprentices who will start their building control degree in September.

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