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Holywell Hill Resident Formally Complains About the Conduct of Planning Referrals Chair-25 November 2010.

posted 25 Nov 2010, 15:39 by David Gilroy   [ updated 26 Nov 2010, 05:30 ]
St.Albans resident Mr Tony Waite complained to Standards for England and emailed PoolTooSmall as follows:-
My complaint is of predetermination/bias at the Planning Referrals Committee Meeting of 28th April 2010. 

I refer to the minutes of that meeting in which it is stated: ‘The test was whether or not a fair minded and informed observer would consider that committee members had made a decision with closed minds and whether there had been bias or pre-determination.’ I concur with that opinion which is believed to be have been laid down by Lord Hope in 2002 acting in his judicial capacity. However I do not concur with the appropriateness of the Planning and Conservation Portfolio Holder, who was Chair of the Planning and Referrals Committee, being a member of the committee determining the planning application. 

I should like to remark, as an aside, not part of my complaint, but in recognition of the workload and general probity of SADC staff and members, that the situation in which Councils have by law to act as both developer and LPA places them in a difficult and invidious position and one that I wish could be rectified by legislation. 

I note that there was dissent over the timing of the meeting during an election period, and that there was a possibility that the planning application might have been called in. Such a procedure is alleged by some to have a political dimension to it, as is evidenced by claims concerning the calling in of the Helioslough planning application, which is also located in the Green Belt. I am aware that the ‘New Lodge’ application involved only a little nibble of the Green Belt, which is doubtless why it was not called in, but one man’s nibble is another man’s bite – it is a matter of judgement, as indeed so many planning decisions are. 

A reasonable and informed observer would conclude, I submit, that such issues would have been considered by Cabinet. I consider myself to be an informed observer because I have submitted several planning applications and contested several planning appeals, and it is this experience of development, [and the council IS acting as developer] which leads me to that conclusion. 

I then looked at Cabinet Agendas to find out when such issues were discussed. As far as I can ascertain, they were not discussed in public. I further submit that Cllr Brazier could reasonably have been supposed to have expertise in tactical considerations attaching to planning applications, as he will have chaired meetings at which planning applicants will have exhibited all sorts of manoeuvres designed to facilitate consent. 

I note that the Cabinet went into private session on 7th July 2009. I submit that during that meeting Cllr Brazier could well have plotted tactics to maximise the chances of the forthcoming planning application succeeding, including its timing during the election and the securing of a failure by the DCLG to call it in. 

It matters not a jot, I submit, what actually happened during that session, but what matters is the impression given to the electorate and in particular to a fair minded and well informed observer such as myself. 

I now refer to the example quoted by Standards for England: Nevertheless, because the councillor is the Chair of the planning committee, uses his casting vote to decide in favour of his colleague, and regularly shares a car with that colleague when coming to council meetings, this gives rise to an appearance of bias. 

Cllr Brazier is very much a colleague of Cllr Donald and of his cronies in cabinet. They were trying to tack their planning application through against a headwind from the ‘pooltoosmall’ campaign. There is, I submit, no real distinction between sharing a car with developer colleagues, and having private meetings with them. 

I further note that Cllr Brazier is reported in the press as having advised his colleagues as to how he intended to cast his casting vote, before so actually doing. That, in my judgement, further compounds his error. Imagine how the tabloids would re-act if Simon Cowell told his fellow judges how he intended to vote before his turn came. There would be uproar. How could he have been so injudicious? But that is not the substance of my complaint. It is a complaint of apparent predetermination/bias contrary to Para: 5 [Disrepute] of Standards for England’s model Code of Conduct.
Tony Waite. Holywell Hill . St.Albans.