Time for a debate at Huntingdonshire planning process
ZOE McGowan’s letter “Out of touch” could spark a long-overdue popular uprising against our dysfunctional local planning system. Let’s hope so.
While looking into the recent case of a controversial new care home, the biggest of its kind in Huntingdonshire, I found that the planners aimed to approve the application under their ‘scheme of delegation’ (i.e. behind closed doors). It seems the council can determine any application secretly no matter how large and important. It must be very tempting then for officers to sidestep inconvenient national and local guidelines, not expecting the matter to come under public scrutiny.
Who gave the officers delegated powers to do as they please? Our elected councillors did, happy to reinforce widely-held suspicions that planning is the private playground of officials and developers rather than a publicly accountable function.
Councillors are supposed to operate under a Code of Conduct that ensures “there are no grounds for suggesting that a planning decision has been biased, partial or not well founded”. It requires members to go to meetings with an open mind and actually demonstrate their open-mindedness. How many do that? How many speak up at all? Or are they instructed at a pre-meeting to keep quiet?
Furthermore councillors and officers are all governed by the Seven Principles of Public Life, one of which (openness) states that holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take and give reasons for their decisions. See also the principles of accountability and integrity.
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HDC chief Malcolm Sharp is past-president of the Planning Officers Society, whose aims include acting as “a centre of excellence in Local Government planning matters”. Look around you ... is HDC anything like a centre of planning excellence?
It’s no use complaining to the Ombudsman. As ombudsmanwatchers.org.uk says, “Local Government Ombudsmen are nothing more than a government sponsored quango whose remit is to bury as much of the unpleasant and offensive features of Local Government as they can.”
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And the MP is selected, or de-selected, by the same people who run the council.