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Is the Planning dept fit for purpose?


Sha
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The latest news report (WWW today) with regards to the planning dept clearly highlights the gross inconsistencies of officers decisions.

 

Officers recommended refusal for an extension for the benefit of a disabled child  ( thankfully the committee members did not follow their advice.)

 

Personal / medical reasons were not in this case seen by Warrington planning officers as sufficient 'material considerations' to allow development. A  case  springs immediately to mind - that of a chronically sick farmers wife who needed an extension to live out her days in comfort close to her family - unfortunately for that lady the committee did not rally against the planning officers and her case was refused. Yet at around about the same time weren't a certain family 'for personal reasons' allowed  to use 'material considerations' to flout planning rules to build a permanent residence on greenbelt land?

 

Whatever, the most blatant inconsistencies seen in this present case must surely be the officers giving as a reason for refusal  -  that the extension would be detrimental to the "street scene" !!!

The gross carbuncles recommended by officers (and passed by the committee)  to be built in the Town Hall grounds and Bewsey Old Hall parkland, both destroying the historical settings of these supposedly protected buildings, together with the tin pot tack now standing on West Avenue Stockton Heath and the numerous other aesthetically vile thrown ups scattered about the town are all very clear indications of Warrington's planning officer's idea of acceptable "street scene". So their reasons for recommending refusal for a small extension - to which none of the neighbours to the property objects - appear absolutely out of context.

 

There seems, here in Warrington, to be no consistency as to what can and cannot be regarded as "material considerations".

I remember clearly that prior to the planning meeting re Stockton Heath Primary the objectors were informed by the planning officer that 'education' was not a material consideration and so education issues could not be used to support their objection.

Yet at the eventual planning meeting those in favour of the application focused on 'education' to make their case.

(Rather ridiculously in fact - with some teachers quoting a need for new build so that pupils would be able to look out of the windows more easily to stop them getting bored !  Even more ridiculous was the then headmistress making, her case for the benefits of better education.  In trying to impress by littering her speech with literary quotes - or rather misquotes! ( out of context quotes plus wrong author! ) she made a complete fool of herself - as well as the planning officers and the majority of the planning committee who smiled as she ended her speech by urging them to go forward  into a "BRAVE NEW WORLD"! 

Amongst a sea of smiling faces, Cllr George Barlow's horrified expression was perhaps the most memorable event of that planning meeting!   A truly well educated man and one who wouldn't have been surprised to see the school's decline into special measures'

 

Sorry, drifting off point there!

 

The point I am trying to make is, that even after the great c*ck up's already made by the planning dept and the assurances that 'lessons have been learned' it doesn't seem to be operating well.

 There seems little consistency in how planning 'law' is applied . Whilst it can bend to local objectives the local objectives are meant to be consistent

How many times do we see the planning committee forming an opinion - on what they believe is right for the area - and with the use of 'material considerations'

could achieve a strong valid decision, which is then undermined by the officers recommending refusal by means of other 'material considerations'.

 It is not only inconsistent it is costly as divided opinions open the way for appeals. 

 

Why do we employ planning officers whose objectives for the town do not match those of elected representatives and more importantly those of the people?

 

 

I have read of a planning dept that locals declared not fit for purpose and refused to submit their planning applications to, I wouldn't be surprised if it happened here.

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Planning department is a bit of a joke and breweries spring to mind.

 

The number of times that some builders in the area have been granted retroactive planning permission for properties they have already built is unbelievable. There was one builder in particular who applied for retroactive permission on everything he built and usually got it that is if his little extra designs were discovered by the inspectors.

 

Have heard of one person who had his house for five years and then was told that he had to drop his roof by a metre as the builder had exceeded the height submitted on the original plans.

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You think Warringtons bad, In Bradford one bloke had been planning on opening a Subway-style sandwich shop, specialising in a wide variety of pork meats; bacon, ham, sausage, salami, the works!

He was going to call it 'The Infi-deli' but planning turned him down. :roll:  

 

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That will be the same planning department which goes in for extraordinary and inexcusable acts of maladministration, then.

That sort of thing represents a significant and very serious failure of corporate government, you know.

Well, that's what the Local Government Ombudsman said about the antics of the WBC planning department, last time she had to come in and sort their act out for them.

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The OP bangs on about the inconsistencies of the planning officers but if I read it right the officers were consistent, it was the committee that refused the farmer's wife case but passed the recent one for the child. The committee were, according to the story, 'moved by the plight of a family' and you use this for a rant about old stuff, most of which seems just a biased opinion. Unbelievable, really.

 

Then Evil Sid says 'The number of times that some builders in the area have been granted retroactive planning permission for properties they have already built is unbelievable'. How many times is that, so we know how unbelievable it is?

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The OP bangs on about the inconsistencies of the planning officers but if I read it right the officers were consistent, it was the committee that refused the farmer's wife case but passed the recent one for the child. The committee were, according to the story, 'moved by the plight of a family' and you use this for a rant about old stuff, most of which seems just a biased opinion. Unbelievable, really.

 

Then Evil Sid says 'The number of times that some builders in the area have been granted retroactive planning permission for properties they have already built is unbelievable'. How many times is that, so we know how unbelievable it is?

 

Old stuff? We have one councillor in Bob Barr still peddling the myth to this day that when the planning department broke the law and put the wellbeing and possibly lives of residents at risk, then covered it up for it over a period of years that it was all down to a 'rogue officer' when we know that is factually incorrect, even based on the conclusions of the council's own narrow enquiry - never mind what the ombudsman unearthed.  

 

The other point to make is that it might make it easier to give you a number if the entire planning department hadn't ensured nobody would ever be able to answer that sort of question. But anybody who has followed local news for a period of years will be aware of one particular surname frequently associated with retrospective planning approvals and one thing and another.  

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Well so far this year alone there has been at least one a week reported in the local newspapers.

 

Then there is the tyre wall debacle which seems to drag on from one court to another. ok so maybe that was not the fault of the planning department but even though they are fighting each and every appeal it does not help their case that the wall is still there.

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Well so far this year alone there has been at least one a week reported in the local newspapers.

 

Still unbelievable. Give us the links.

 

The other point to make is that it might make it easier to give you a number if the entire planning department hadn't ensured nobody would ever be able to answer that sort of question. But anybody who has followed local news for a period of years will be aware of one particular surname frequently associated with retrospective planning approvals and one thing and another.  

 

How many? How frequent? It's an "unbelievable" number but you don't know what it is because there's a conspiracy to keep it quiet, yet it's in the local papers every week.

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DH if you read my post properly you would have seen that the inconsistencies I was illustrating were that in both the case of the disabled child and the farmers wife the planning officers refused to accept that their 'personal circumstances' were valid 'material considerations' yet the 'personal circumstances' of the family who bought green belt land and then applied to build on it were acceptable.  Yet in the cases of the disabled child and the farmer's wife the families had lived in their properties for some years prior to needing adaptions to continue living there whilst in the other case the family had recently moved onto greenbelt land. Why did they buy greenbelt land if the intention was to build? Personally I would have refused the application and told them to go buy land in a non greenbelt area.

 

 I also pointed out the inconsistencies in the planning officers use of 'street scene'. How can a small extension in a built up area - to which none of the neighbours objects be classed as a reason to recommend refusal when building in the setting of heritage sites can be regarded as acceptable? 

 

As for my having a biased opinion - yes I was biased regarding Stockton Heath Primary, I was an objector to demolition. But with regards to what I wrote re the planning meeting anyone who actually attended that meeting would know that it was fact.

Your bias re this issue is obviously opposite to mine - but as time has proved the objectors were right!

 

Lastly, you have misread not only mine but other's posts. Perhaps you should pay more attention to what has actually been written before you go banging on your computer keys because it's you who is appearing ridiculous!  

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Could the gent (the farmer) who was refused planning permission for his ill and disabled wife resubmit an application and cite the recently passed similar application in his favour ?  That is if it's not to late for his wife now :(

It does seem very unfair and like you say Sha very inconsistent.

As for the school and the inconsistencies about the use of education as a material consideration. During the first planning application the objectors were told time and time again throughout the whole procedure that education  COULD NOT be used.  On decision night the committee were warned by JG, the senior planning officer, that any decision they made that night would be FINAL yet again anyone mentioning 'education' was told it was not a material consideration and not allowed blah blah blah.  The Committee REFUSED the application much to the shock of the officers and the council (applicant).    But then, after their shock refusal,  the council simply submitted another identical application and that one was passed and the crafty buggers changed the rules on the next decision night and they used 'education' as the main material consideration while objectors still stuck to the rules of planning like you said Sha.  Had the objectors known  they too could have used all the evidence they had regarding educational merits or disadvatages  too.  I guess the council planning officers & solicitor can tweak what ever rules they like when it suits :wink:

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DH if you read my post properly you would have seen that the inconsistencies I was illustrating were that in both the case of the disabled child and the farmers wife the planning officers refused to accept that their 'personal circumstances' were valid 'material considerations' yet the 'personal circumstances' of the family who bought green belt land and then applied to build on it were acceptable.  Yet in the cases of the disabled child and the farmer's wife the families had lived in their properties for some years prior to needing adaptions to continue living there whilst in the other case the family had recently moved onto greenbelt land. Why did they buy greenbelt land if the intention was to build? Personally I would have refused the application and told them to go buy land in a non greenbelt area.

 

............

 

Lastly, you have misread not only mine but other's posts. Perhaps you should pay more attention to what has actually been written before you go banging on your computer keys because it's you who is appearing ridiculous!  

 

I presume 'DH' is me. Yes, I'm sorry but I did misread your post. Others can judge whether that's my fault or yours for not being clearer. I hadn't even realised you were comparing three different cases. You began by referring to a news story that 'clearly highlights the gross inconsistencies of officers decisions' about two cases where the officers were consistent in their advice. Then you came up with the other case to prove inconsistency, and as the news story didn't cover that it's diffcult to know whether they were inconsisent. What's the planning case number?

 

I'm not sure whether grey_man is genuinely complaining that I mixed his comments with Evil Sid's. Compared to him saying 'the entire planning team broke the law' that's hardly worth bothering about. I was challenging both of them for something to back up their exaggerated claims, and I don't know how illegal destruction of records from the last century would stop them coming up with something more recent.

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Well you should bother about it because it happened and because of what it tells us about the way local authorities think and behave. The same mindset is evident in current events in Rotherham. Council officials and councillors will habitually cover up and lie about something like the rape of children then refuse to accept responsibility once the facts are dragged out of them so we shouldn't expect anything better from them when it comes to less serious issues. It's a standard pattern of behaviour based on a specific mindset and, seeing as councils keep displaying it, you can't expect people to be anything less than suspicious of them. So, maybe the planning team at Warrington is now squeaky clean, but nobody would be in the least surprised to discover different. Certain events from Andy Farrell's past would suggest that things might emerge.    

 

As for the situation with WBC and its planning scandals being 'last century', I think late in 2012 is a bit more recent than that. The ombudsman's report was completed in 2011 and council employees were still offering advice to council based on information they didn't have up to that point and presumably still are. So, well done to ALL of them in the planning function for keeping it covered up for so many years, but don't try to use that as an excuse to dismiss it as ancient history. It's not, and nor is the fact that it was down to the town's residents to drag (some of) the details out of them. If anything else goes awry, it's more likely to be uncovered or revealed by residents or outside agencies than the council itself. 

 

Personally I think the most shameful aspect of this whole sorry episode was ignoring police advice on the safety of residents and misleading committee members on the fact. That was in 2009/2010 and didn't come to light for some time after that. So please don't make things up about how long ago we are talking about. 

 

And what happened in the aftermath of the various scandals? I believe one senior planning officer was allowed to leave although, as ever, we are not allowed to know on what basis and what terms, even though he should have been sacked for gross misconduct, in my opinion. Apparently lessons - as ever - were learned, nobody was responsible and new 'systems' were introduced although what good they are in a department with a track record of ignoring them is beyond me. And the man who the council would like us to think was the only one involved, 'rogue officer' John Earle was never obliged to answer questions, not least 'why'. It strikes me that is the one question the council either already knew the answer to or didn't want to know.

 

The idea that it was all an administrative cock-up is ludicrous. Earle knew it was illegal as did many other people who took part, it was carried out in a way that was laborious in terms of rendering the records useless without destroying them completely and the fact no records of meetings or communications regarding the destruction exist tells us all we need to know about how it was carried out. The council administration that ensured the fall-out was all managed in this way is the one still in office. Many of those councillors who were in the administration under whose watch it happened are now still serving. So, it's a very current issue. 

 

One other thing the planning scandal taught us - I happen to believe that there are plenty of good people working for the council (how could there not be?) and that many of them took part in or were aware of the knowingly unlawful actions of John Earle and his pals but felt unable to blow the whistle, presumably because they knew how the council would respond. That also tells you a lot about the mindset of those at the head of the council.

 

Is that different now? Do they allow or encourage whistleblowing? Or do they actively discourage it? I don't know but I know what I'd bet. You only have to look at how Rotherham Council went on the offensive when the truth started to emerge to realise that if a local authority is prepared to go into lockdown over industrial scale child abuse, it won't hesitate to do so over things that are far less serious, as we have seen in our own backyard. 

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I was challenging two of you to provide evidence of recent dubious activity.

The destruction of records happened over 5 years ago, and related to records prior to 1996. 'Warrington Borough Council wrongly destroyed records that formed part of the statutory planning register, so that it had no records of plans and applications approved before 1996' from the Ombudsman report. That's the last century and there should be no problem providing examples since then, if you can.

 

Equating what senior planning officers did in Warrington with what happened in Rotherham seems a bit of a stretch.

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DH, you wrote......."Warrington Borough Council wrongly destroyed records that formed part of the statutory planning register ......."

perhaps you should re-read your own words over and over until the enormity of this act sinks in.

 

Then perhaps you should consider the fact that it wasn't WBC in general that destroyed the register but officers employed by WBC,  who carried out this illegal act apparently in secret.

 

To my mind it has never been properly established who in fact was the main culprit. The retired officer did not give evidence as to whether or not he in fact ordered the destruction of the records. Whether he did or not, as chief planning officer at the time he would have been held to account - so, as it would have made no difference to him either way - why did he not give evidence?

 

Whatever, the fact remains that there are officers still employed by WBC whose, (due to the retired officers silence on the subject) involvement in the matter has not been fully established.

That they were at least, aware of what was going on has been established and due to their positions they would have been fully aware that it was illegal. The fact that they did nothing to stop it would amount in most people's eyes to Gross Negligence. 

Yet they are still employed by WBC!  Now don't tell me you can't understand why people wonder why?       

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Sha,

 

I didn't think there was any doubt who did it. 'A senior planning officer who had since left the Council had arranged to destroy records forming part of the statutory planning register'. Another officer knew it was unlawful but didn't do anything to stop it, and he's left the authority. It's possible others knew but (your words) their involvement in the matter has not been fully established, though you then say it has been established that they were at least aware of what was going on. That's hardly a basis for disciplinary action, and I still don't know which was the greenbelt case that was supposed to be inconsistent

 

As for grey_man, I'll bow to his more intimate knowledge, or guesswork, of who knew what, but the records destroyed were pre-1996 - so we have 18 years of records since, so what are the cases that would back up his claim that 'anybody who has followed local news for a period of years will be aware of one particular surname frequently associated with retrospective planning approvals and one thing and another'.

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The destruction of records happened over 5 years ago, and related to records prior to 1996.

So the fact that they were destroyed 5 years ago and only relate to any plans pre 1996 makes it ok then in your eyes ?  Here's hoping one day you have to check on the past plans for your home, near your home or perhaps business premises when you have a problem or when you are thinking ob buying and then you might see just how important keeping the actual plans and other related documents was rather than just keeping the final decision notices (which don't actually show the details of WHAT was actually approved by the way) ..... That's why it is a STATUTORY DUTY for them to be kept for so long and anyone in charge of a planning office should, and would have, know that :wacko:

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Whatever, the fact remains that there are officers still employed by WBC whose, (due to the retired officers silence on the subject) involvement in the matter has not been fully established.

That they were at least, aware of what was going on has been established and due to their positions they would have been fully aware that it was illegal. The fact that they did nothing to stop it would amount in most people's eyes to Gross Negligence. 

Yet they are still employed by WBC!  Now don't tell me you can't understand why people wonder why?       

 

That's the bit I'd disagree on. I think the issue of whistleblowing is something that needs to be better enshrined in employment law. It's not an issue restricted to local authorities but a lot of large organisations in both the public and private sector will happily ruin somebody's life for speaking out. My suspicion would be that a number of people at WBC knew what happened, knew it was illegal and objected (in private at least) but felt unable to speak out or actually did speak out but were reminded what was good for them. I don't think that is solely down to the individual but part of a culture that is enshrined from the top down. The fact that WBC went into lockdown rather than address the various planning scandals head on merely reinforces the fear in the minds of potential whistleblowers that the organisation and the careers of senior managers are more important than the law, ethics, morality and the lives of residents.

 

 

As for grey_man, I'll bow to his more intimate knowledge, or guesswork, of who knew what, but the records destroyed were pre-1996 - so we have 18 years of records since, so what are the cases that would back up his claim that 'anybody who has followed local news for a period of years will be aware of one particular surname frequently associated with retrospective planning approvals and one thing and another'.

 

They're in the local newspapers. Like I said, anybody who has read them over a long period of time will recognise the threads. 

 

I don't know who knew what because the council has ensured that. We do know quite a lot from the ombudsman's report however, including the fact that as recently as 2010/2011 council employees in the planning department were prepared to ignore police advice about the personal safety of Warrington residents and lie to councillors about the fact. If that's not serious or recent enough for you then God help us.   

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That's serious, and that's recent. I've no idea why you (or Dizzy) think I don't agree. But this thread began as about recent cases of inconsistency with hints of corruption, and you've said you can't quote them because of the destruction of pre-1996 records, but that doesn't stop anyone coming up with cases since 1996, and so far there's nothing that would pass as 'evidence'. Cases every week in the newspapers this year, Evil Sid said, but he's kept his head down since I asked him to back that up.

 

You might be right, but saying there are lots of cases and then saying you can't prove it because of a cover-up is just conspiracy theory stuff.

 

Can we now call it a draw?

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Incidentally, I see that Rotherham Council now appears to have mislaid a lot of information relating to its own problems. As did the Home Office recently with its own potentially damning files. Again, I'm not equating things, just highlighting what appears to be a modus operandi for local authorities and government departments with regard to information that might blow up in the faces of employees and politicians. I bet you you could find memos relating to increases in the cost of drink vending machines dating back to 1986 in the archives of both councils though. There's a huge spotlight on Rotherham now so I doubt they'll get away with the rogue officer / mistake explanation that WBC foisted on us but they might try. Let's see.

 

Also - haven't you been shocked at the low standard of people on Rotherham Council? I suppose you never get to see it until a proper spotlight falls on them but I wouldn't rely on Joyce Thacker, Paul Lakin and Shaun Wright being able to find their own backsides using both hands, never mind command huge salaries and responsibility for the prosperity and wellbeing of a quarter of a million people. Let's hope the standards in Warrington are higher.  

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Thacker, Lakin and Wright are typical of the brass necked career bureaucrats who are found in large numbers in local government these days.

Wright was hauled up in front of an enquiry in Westminster just yesterday and pressed to resign over the issue of the serious sexual offences against at least 1400 girls which took place in Rotherham on his watch, true to type he refused, informing the committee that he had received literally hundreds of messages from people begging him to stay on, though curiously, he couldn't produce any. Hard faced doesn't even get close...

One MP was moved to remark to Mr Wright, "I've sat through thousands of meetings and you're the least credible witness I've ever seen. The only reason you're carrying on is your love of salary."

Is Mr Wright the only charlatan in local government?

It seems unlikely.

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