Text us your news! Start your message Warrington News and send any photos or videos to 80360
No confidence in planning department - MP claims
8:06am Tuesday 9th October 2012 in News
HELEN Jones has called for a review of Warrington Borough Council’s planning department because it has ‘lost confidence’ of residents.
The Warrington North MP has written a letter to the interim chief executive Professor Steven Broomhead asking for an outside expert to assess the department and make recommendations on improvements.
Ms Jones said: “It is clear that this department is simply not functioning properly. The lessons of the past have not been learnt.
“Enforcement is a continuing problem and my constituents have simply lost confidence in the planning process. That situation does no one any good.”
The Labour MP said that internal efforts to review the department had not proven enough to ‘sort out this shambles’.
Ms Jones added: “Over the years I have been an MP for Warrington North there have been too many mistakes by the planning department.
“Years ago, I took up a complaint about housing which was built as affordable housing being sold to people who already had a house. It was then rented out in the private rented sector, depriving someone of a home of their own. I was told lessons had been learned.
“Then we had the fiasco over Marton Close where documents had been destroyed, including documents that the council had a statutory duty to hold. Residents had to fight for years for justice and the ombudsman found an ‘extraordinary and inexcusable act of maladministration’. No one seems to have been held to account.”
It was also through a freedom of information request that she found out council officers had met with developers of Peel Hall not once as first stated but six times in eight months.
“Residents have lost faith in the credibility of the planning department and it is important that the council takes steps urgently to restore trust in the local authority’s decision making,” she added.
Responding to Ms Jones' comments Clr David Keane, executive board member for environment and public protection, said: “We accepted the original Ombudsman report of April 2011 and quickly took a series of actions in the summer of 2011 which included the actions that Helen Jones MP is now suggesting.
“All the actions we have taken have significantly contributed to the development and implementation of a positive and robust action plan for this service.
“We immediately called for an independent investigation into matters highlighted by the Ombudsman report, the findings of which have been reported to Full Council after being considered at length by the all party Audit and Governance Committee. The recommendations of this report have now been fully implemented.
“Another major decision,was to request an independent expert review of the planning department. We requested that the Planning Advisory Service, a free service, would visit the council for an in-depth review. This happened late last year and their findings were published early this year.
“These reports formed the basis of our Planning Service Improvement Plan which was considered, in public, by the council’s Environment and Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee in June of this year. This cross-party committee unanimously endorsed the Improvement Plan..
"A particular focus of the improvement plan is to strengthen the council’s planning enforcement function and there has been, following consultation, a re-organisation of the department in order to meet this objective.
“Looking forward, a cross-party improvement board has been created in order to monitor the delivery of the suggested improvements and ensure the best service possible in very difficult financial times.
“It is regrettable that the MP didn’t contact us to gather the facts prior to making her statements. The Planning Department is now on a journey of continuous improvement and we welcome the positive involvement of all representatives in the town in this regard.”