Tuesday 12 March 2013

And now planning officers are in the sh*t

Yesterday, this blog reported the Daily Telegraph’s exposé of local councillors offering themselves for hire to property developers to provide planning advice.

Today, the Telegraph’s exposé continues with a report that local planning officers are also on the take:
Moonlighting planning officers help builders exploit ‘vulnerable’ councils
Planning officers are offering to draw up applications for developers who can take advantage of “vulnerable” councils in the wake of the relaxation of building laws, The Telegraph can disclose.
The public sector officials, who work full-time for councils, charge thousands of pounds in consultancy fees to assist companies, including supermarkets and property companies, with planning applications.
A consultancy in Cambridge advised undercover reporters that the planning officials could explain the complex planning system to private clients while still working for local authorities.
The local councillors exposed yesterday were behaving unethically but probably not illegally. For local government officers, however, there is less ambiguity. The Telegraph quotes government minister Brandon Lewis:
“As employers, individual councils should set out clear terms and conditions for their staff, including rules about outside employment to prevent conflicts of interest. Breaking those conditions could amount to gross misconduct. Council planning departments routinely offer formal and official pre-application advice as part of their normal service to both local residents and firms.
“However, it is totally inappropriate for council employees to be personally receiving extra payments on the side in relation to their own councils. Such activities could entail a criminal offence under the Bribery Act.”
Meanwhile, there have been consequences for two of the three councillors exposed in yesterday’s Telegraph. The Tory councillors in East Devon and Esher have both been suspended. But in Newcastle, Liberal Democrat councillor Greg Stone is being treated more leniently. The Northern Echo reports:
Coun David Faulkner, leader of the Lib Dems at Newcastle City Council, said he was not aware of any conflict of interest “nor anything inappropriate about Coun Stone’s role as a planning consultant and how he carries it out”.

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