THURROCK’S two MPS have been urged to apologise for criticising the Borough’s planning committee – but they have roundly defended themselves.
At last week’s meeting of the committee its chairman, former Tory Council leader Cllr Terry Hipsey – who quit the Conservatives to join Labour in 2009 – slammed the MPs after hearing a report on the performance of the Borough’s Development Management team which oversees planning issues reports the Thurrock Enquirer.
The report puts the Council in the top ten per cent of high performing authorities in the country and there were a number of plaudits in the report for development management team members.
In receiving the report, Cllr Hipsey criticised Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price and her East Thurrock Conservative colleague Stephen Metcalfe, saying: “It is exceptionally good news. Other politicians in the Borough have a strange view of how this department operates.”
He instructed the committee clerk to end the MPs a copy of the report and added: “We work perfectly across party, we have a sound committee that has a good understanding of what s needed in the Borough and we have a very good relationship with officers. Perhaps our MPs would like to make an apology for some of the disgraceful outbursts they have made.”
Cllr Tunde Ojetola said: “I am pleased with this report, it is good. Despite what I have read in various strands of the media, you have done a solid job. This external accreditation is showing that the planning committee and the officers are going in the right direction.”
Responding to news of the criticism, Mr Metcalfe said: “I am not aware that I have ever made any detrimental public statements about planning in Thurrock. I am pleased that the planning department is considered to be doing its job well but perhaps Cllr Hipsey should get his facts right.”
Ms Doyle-Price went further onto the front foot in her rebuttal of Cllr Hipsey’s comments saying: “I have nothing to apologise for. I make no criticism of the planning department. My criticism is of the planning committee.
“The committee is failing to deliver its obligations to uphold Thurrock’s own policies. It is poorly led and poorly trained. I think this is a rather pathetic attempt by Cllr Hipsey to hide behind officers when frankly the failings are his.”
The report did highlight the relationship between officers and councillors, saying there has been a ‘significant change’ in the relationship over the last nine years and councillors now have confidence in their officers’ capability and responsiveness. It also says member awareness of planning issues and the quality of decisions taken has risen.
The report also praised the development management team’s outreach into the community, particularly its liaison with community forums.
One outcome of the report is likely to be a rise in charges for pre-application fees given by members of Thurrock’s planning team. There is a wide divergence of costs in local authorities, varying from a low of £650 for a meeting in Uttlesford to £2,016 in Barking and Dagenham, but Thurrock’s costs are lower than everyone else and it is suggested that the charges do not adequately cover the time and costs given to such meetings. It is suggested the fees be reviewed.
In conclusion, report author Linda Durtnal, says: “The Development Management service at Thurrock has moved forward a long way over the last three years in particular, in terms of both performance and quality.
“This is a success story of good practice in the face of significant obstacles.”