PLANNERS in Southampton are among the slowest in the country in deciding major applications, Government figures show.

Just 35.8 per cent of key bids are decided by the city council within 13 weeks – the target set by ministers.

That puts Southampton in the bottom ten per cent of English local authorities, a ‘league table’ where the best performer is Coventry (96.3 per cent).

Two other Hampshire authorities fall short of the 50 per cent mark for applications settled within three months – Fareham (40 per cent) and Winchester (41 per cent).

Over a 21-month period to last March the best locally was the Isle of Wight (57.1 per cent).

The statistics are important because, controversially, local government secretary Eric Pickles has threatened to strip the worst-performing councils of their planning powers.

That responsibility would be handed to a central planning inspectorate, to kick-start the economy by getting foot-dragging planners “off our backs”.

However, Southampton is currently performing better than the threshold for ministers to step in – 30 per cent of applications decided within 13 weeks.

Mr Pickles also vowed to act against town halls falling down on quality, detected by a high proportion of planning decisions overturned on appeal.

At some councils, 13 per cent of appeals are successful – but that proportion is tiny across Hampshire, with Test Valley (four per cent) the highest.

Planning minister Nick Boles said it was useful to identify the minority of authorities that were “blighted by delays in processing applications”.

Such delays could “discourage much-needed investment in jobs, homes and community facilities”.

Mr Boles said: “It’s quite right that communities and developers looking to provide homes and jobs are able to see how efficiently applications are processed by their council.

“This list helps people see how their council is performing, and allows councils to see where they need to improve to provide a better planning service to their communities.”

In the autumn, ministers will use fresher figures to decide which, if any, councils will lose planning powers.

Investment Southampton City Council leader Simon Letts said: “These Government figures relate to big projects and the council works hard to bring in major investment and developers.

“As a result, a lot of our projects are extremely large – like Centenary Quay, which is currently one of the biggest projects around, outside London, and others like Admirals Quay, Southampton’s New Arts Complex, and Watermark WestQuay.

“These huge schemes are very complex, which is why it is important to work with developers to get the detail right from the beginning, and we know from experience that they would rather us work beyond the 12-week target to get a right decision, than having to resubmit planning at a later date because it was premature.

“However, we take the new government performance initiative seriously and are taking the necessary steps to ensure we don’t fall foul of it.”