A COUNCIL has promised to get its planning department in order after the Government stepped in following concerns of poor performance.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister commissioned consultants to look at Stockton Borough Council's planning department after it failed to meet national standards in 2003 regarding both minor and major applications.

Officers were said to be failing to process applications in the expected time, creating a backlog of work and leaving residents and businesses frustrated.

Council leader Bob Gibson said strides had been made since the Government stepped in, last year, but accepted that further improvements were needed.

He said additional senior and support staff had already been taken on to deal with the backlog of applications, but said more may still be required.

"A shortage of staff was putting us behind and I think we were missing the Government targets a couple of years ago, and that's why the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister stepped in," said Coun Gibson.

"We are having a difficult task recruiting planning officers of the right calibre. We are doing what we can, but if we don't achieve the targets this year, we will achieve them next year."

Coun Gibson said the council was considered an authority of excellence, so would not be happy until the planning department was up to par.

But he said improvements had also been made in delegating tasks, along with new systems to produce more accurate data, which had also speeded up the process.

A performance improvement plan had also been introduced.

"I'm happy that we have moved away from where we were because it was not good enough, but the department will not be allowed to slide back," he said.

A report on the department by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will go before the planning committee next week.

It states that there have been clear signs of improvement in handling minor and other applications, and the council now exceeded the national target of processing 65 per cent of applications within eight weeks.

However, it said major applications were still off the target of getting 60 per cent processed in 13 weeks.