• CPRE condemns planning and standards system

    12th March 2013 | News | Claire
  • The story is here and below: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9923195/CPREs-Neil-Sinden-Councillors-buying-and-sellling-planning-permissions-seriously-undermines-public-confidence-in-the-system.html

    Local authority planning functions are among the most sensitive there are. They involve decisions which can not only change the face of an area, but often also result in significant financial gains for landowners and developers.

    Reports of serving local councillors offering specialist advice on local planning matters for financial gain will seriously undermine public confidence in both local government and the planning system.

    This could be seen as tantamount to the ‘buying and selling’ of planning permission, about which the Campaign to Protect Rural England has raised concerns for many years. It has the potential to bring the planning system into serious disrepute.

    It was John Major who almost 20 years ago set up the Committee for Standards in Public Life, which become known as the Nolan Committee after its first Chairman, to ‘examine current concerns about standards of conduct of all holders of public office.’ This came in response to the cash for questions controversy but also addressed concerns over practice in local planning.

    Nolan came up with seven ‘principles of public life’. These have become accepted standards against which to judge the behaviour of local and national politicians. One of them dealt with ‘integrity’. It states that ‘holders of public office should not places themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.’ This principle, as well as the others, clearly needs to be reasserted in the light of these latest revelations.

    In CPRE’s view, our system of controls over land use and development, exercised through the planning system, should be regarded as one of the triumphs of the post-war settlement, alongside the national health service. For its continued effectiveness, it relies above all else on public confidence in local planners and councillors who between them are usually responsible for around half a million planning decisions each year.

    There are currently very limited opportunities for those who have concerns over the way these responsibilities are exercised. Judicial review is often prohibitively expensive and the Government is currently considering curtailing its scope. Recourse to the Local Government Ombudsman is usually too late to be an effective remedy. CPRE believes that local councillors should fulfil their planning responsibilities to the highest standards of probity and transparency. They must be beyond reproach.

    The latest revelations raise serious questions about whether the current standards regime,particularly following the recent abolition of the Standards Board, is sufficient to ensure public confidence in the operation of the planning system. As the full force of the Government’s planning reforms begin to be felt on the ground, as well as more damaging development in the wrong places, we are set to see a surge in public concern about whether the planning system is fit for purpose.’

    Neil Sinden is Policy and Campaigns Director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)