Monday, December 5, 2022

“Damning” Planning Report Questions Motives of Councillors

A £20,000 report on the activities of the controversial Thurrock Council Planning Committee has made a series of “damning” accusations and inferences that may put into question the future of many if not all of the councillors who sat on the beleaguered committee.

The report was specially commissioned by Interim Chief Executive Boss of Thurrock Council, Bob Coomber but kept under wraps for six months.

It was written by local government expert Chris Collison and has pulled no punches as it throws down the gauntlet to the members of the planning committee to clear their name.

Amongst the criticisms, questions, inferences and recommendations are:

1. “An absence of adequate explanation of decisions inevitably raises questions about the motives of those councillors.”

2. “The fact that the Local Development Framework Working Group was adopting proposals without adequate stated justification left the process failing a test of transparency and open to all manner of speculation as to the basis of those proposals.”

3.”Where Committee decisions are made contrary to officer recommendations which are based on policy, and those decisions are made without adequate explanation, interested observers may conclude that some councillors are working to alternative unstated agendas.

4.”It is essential that councillors adopt practices that leave them above suspicion of receiving inappropriate influence.”

5.”Councillors appear to be receiving correspondence relevant to the determination of planning applications and LDF preparation but not declaring this.

6. “The style of the Chair is not always conducive to good working relationships between him and officers with reference made to officers being talked down and not able to offer advice at meetings

The report traces the “dysfunctionality” of the committee to the role and remit of the Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation’s (DC) planning function. It makes reference to the controversy over 76 High Street, Grays and the development of an “Us and Them” mentality.

Mr Collisson said: “A divergence of views regarding a proper approach to Green Belt issues has been a major impediment to improved working arrangements”.

The report makes clear that the government and a number of other agencies have a task to bring at least 18,500 homes by 2021 but with the committee grinding to a halt

“Few new houses are being built and no plans were in place to make sure that this will increase in future. As a result, Thurrock is in danger of not having enough new houses to meet future growth needs.

The report charts a series of decisions that Mr Collison, with 35 years of experience in local government, brought more questions than answers with regard to transparency and correctitude.

He makes specific reference to the high number of officer recommendations overturned by the members  with 14 cases in the six month period May to October 2009 alone.

He said: “I have found little or no merit in several committee reversal decisions. Indeed decisions in some cases appear to be without proper justification. Green Belt considerations have in particular not been properly applied…

“At the Planning Committee meeting held on 7th January 2010 it was resolved to grant two planning permissions where no reasonable decision maker could have made those decisions.

“Should a permission of that nature be challenged in the High Court, the council would have great difficulty in justifying its position and there is a distinct risk that the permission would be overturned. Officer reports and advice at meetings have been clear in explaining the constraints on the discretion of Members of the Planning Committee in decision making.

“Where Committee decisions are made contrary to officer recommendations which are based on policy, and those decisions are made without adequate
explanation, interested observers may conclude that some councillors are working to alternative unstated agendas.

Mr Collison has gone on to make twenty-one recommendations to the council including webcasting of meetings but perhaps the most pertinent for councillors is:

Recommendation 10: “The Code of Conduct relating to Planning Matters.. to include the requirement that Members should not meet developers or agents for discussions without a Senior Planning Officer present”.

Mr Collison has made it clear that the finds it: “Essential that councillors adopt practices that leave them above suspicion of receiving inappropriate influence.

“Councillors appear to be receiving correspondence relevant to the determination of planning applications and LDF preparation but not declaring this. This is not considered to be conducive to transparent and sound plan preparation.”

YourThurrock will be giving all those who were members of the Planning Committee until May 2010 an opportunity to reply to the findings of the report as well as interviewing the Leader of the Council and the Leader of the Opposition.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Just another nail in Thurrock Councils coffin, maladministration across the board by the looks of things, couldn’t run the proverbial p*** up in brewery springs to mind.

    Ever since the Unitary body has been in power it has been a sham, TBC need to start acting in the interests of the local people or throw the power back to Essex County Council.

  2. Labour Government structure reform to Cabinets combined with local Conservative poor governance and inexperience has created a messy confused system.

    In the old days the members made the policy for officers to work within – these days of executive powers has led to confusion of roles with officers playing politics and members without appropriate skills trying to manage……….. members should remember policy is there for a reason to protect them you can go outside it if there are exceptional circumstances if it becomes routine then a proper policy review should take place.

    Perhaps councillors should have to complete a training course in advance of standing in future to be deemed competent to stand for election. Now thats a system I think would encourage more local community activists to get involved with party politics.

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