THE city’s planning department is smashing its Government targets just 18 months after it was described as being “in meltdown”.

Brighton and Hove council’s planning team, led by Labour Councillor Julie Cattell, has been widely praised by industry experts for the turnaround, which avoided the department being placed in special measures.

Last year a Government report shamed the department for the worst performance in the county with just 43 per cent of major decisions delivered on time from October to December 2015.

The team was late on 72 per cent of its minor applications compared with a national average of 25 per cent.

But figures revealed last week showed performance has been transformed.

In a written answer to Councillor Garry Peltzer Dunn, planning chairwoman Cllr Cattell wrote: “In relation to the Government’s 24-month rolling performance target which is measured on 30 September of each year, the planning service had comfortably exceeded the targets set by Government.”

The city’s planners have succeeded in delivering 80 per cent of minor applications within the eight week target, against a national target of 70 per cent.

And 92.5 per cent of major applications were decided within the 13-week target, which is up from 69 per cent in the October to December 2015 period and significantly ahead of the Government’s 65 per cent target.

Cllr Cattell, who worked as a town planner in both Southwark and Brighton before being elected to the council and taking on the committee chairwomanship in 2015, said the change was a result of an “all hands on deck” approach by the team.

The department, which was chronically understaffed in 2015, has also made progress on recruitment.

Brighton architect Paul Zara, of Conran and Partners, said: “We’ve certainly seen a very great improvement in the service, it’s extremely impressive.

“And the new head of planning, Liz Hobden, I see her attending events and being very visible and I think that’s the best way of handling things.”

Eighteen months ago Phil Graves, boss of Graves Jenkins property consultants, told The Argus the planning department was “in meltdown”.

Yesterday he said: “It is immensely encouraging to hear of these results and it does reflect the efforts that the planning team have invested in recent months.”

Planning consultant Ed Allison-Wright, who last year called the department unfit for purpose, said: “It’s a great news story.

“There’s more confidence the council can perform.”