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Apology issued over delays caused by Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells and Swale council merger

By Alan Smith

It sounded like a good idea: merge parts of the planning departments of Maidstone, Swale and Tunbridge Wells councils and save through economies of scale.

Unfortunately it’s not working out quite so well.

The Mid Kent Planning Support Service started on June 2, but the planning support manager Ryan O’Connell has had to write to parish councils, councillors, businesses and other bodies apologising for the poor service.

The Maidstone council office on King Street
The Maidstone council office on King Street

There have been delays in acknowledging letters, validating applications, carrying out requested searches, posting out decisions and arranging consultations.

Mr O’Connell said: “We are doing everything possible to manage the backlog of work as quickly and efficiently as possible. While we expected some delays at the start and took measures to minimise disruption, the technical difficulties we have experienced have been significantly greater than anticipated.”

The man in charge -Ryan O'Connell
The man in charge -Ryan O'Connell

Mr O’Connell said the situation was improving and the councils had increased staffing levels to deal with the backlog, which had started building on May 19. Businesses affected have been unable to press ahead with their planned applications, and the public found it difficult to comment on applications because details have not appeared online.

Mr O’Connell pledged: “We are ensuring that any consultation periods run uninterrupted for the statutory required period of time, as we do not want to limit anyone’s ability to comment on planning applications nor to risk issuing decisions which are challengeable on the basis of unlawful periods of consultation. However, in order to do this and due to the length of the delays already experienced inevitably a significant number of planning applications will run over their targets.”

The new Mid Kent Service merges the work of the administration, land charges, scanning, validation and technical teams of each of the three boroughs.

Planning officers themselves remain with their own borough and the new service is based in the county town at Maidstone House. For inquiries call 01622 602736.

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