• ‘We’d say cut down trees before they object’

    12th March 2013 | News | Claire
  • It is a scene only too familiar to West Hill residents, many of whom are still furious about the loss of four mature oak trees from Elsdon Lane, following fatal and deliberate damage caused to them.

    The story is here and below:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9923687/Planning-investigation-wed-say-cut-down-trees-before-they-object.html

    Telegraph investigation: For Graham Salisbury there is a simple explanation for his firm’s near perfect success in helping developers win planning permission — “ruthless determination”.

    “One thing we sort of pride ourselves on is results,” said Mr Salisbury with a grin, as he went on to describe the “little wrinkles” he could help his clients overcome in return for a fee.

    Mr Salisbury thought he was speaking to potential investors. But the two people sitting opposite him were undercover reporters from The Telegraph investigating how councillors, officials and former politicians, are working as consultants for companies trying to win planning permission.

    One thing he neglected to mention was that he was also a town councillor for Garstang, Lancs, something that has caused some disquiet locally over the potential for a conflict of interest because of his work as a planning consultant.

    For, as Mr Salisbury explained, there is nothing illegal about what he is doing.

    Mr Salisbury set up the planning consultancy Graham Anthony Associates more than 30 years ago and became town councillor for Garstang two years ago.

    In 2011 the company had a 97 per cent success rate in winning planning permission for developments. When a reporter asked how they managed to win so many cases, the reply was to the point — “ruthless determination. I think that’s how they describe it”, he explained.

    In the meeting with the reporters, Mr Salisbury gave tips about how developers could “prepare the ground” before a planning application to a council, including cutting down trees so neighbours or interested parties did not get a chance to apply for protection orders.

    “We’ve got to be absolutely ruthless and just say look, you know, we need to get rid of x, y and z before we even submit this application.

    “It’s totally legal, I mean we don’t, I mean if it’s not protected you can take it down. But as soon as you put the planning application in, a neighbour or an objector sees the tree, we want that tree protecting, you’ll have a protection order on it, before the planning application reaches them and then you’ve got an issue then.

    “That’s just one example of preparing the ground. There are other examples like that, not just trees, but all kinds of little wrinkles,” he said.

    Another consultant the reporters approached was Matthew Green, a former Lib Dem shadow minister for housing and planning. During a telephone call, Mr Green said he did more planning appeals “than anyone else in the country” and won more than 90 per cent of his cases.

    He also described how “quite a bit of our work is enforcement drive. People do things and councils come along and cause, cause them grief, and then they end up in our, then we actually end up, usually either keeping what they’ve done already or modifying it, and usually taking advantage of that to gain further permission”.

    Following the calls, Mr Green grew suspicious and sent an email saying, “Green Planning Solutions LLP do not act to improperly or unlawfully influence decision makers at any stage of the planning process either in the construction of policy, statute and legislation or in decision making in relation to any individual application”.

    Mr Green said he had not used the knowledge of contacts he had made in his former role to his advantage as a planning consultant.

    Mr Salisbury declined to comment when informed he had been speaking to reporters from The Daily Telegraph.

    Following disclosures by this newspaper on Monday that councillors throughout England are for hire to property developers who are hoping to take advantage of relaxed planning laws, Labour have said local politicians should be banned from making money from the planning system in their area.

    Hillary Benn, the shadow local government secretary, said Eric Pickles had a duty to ban the “lobbying for reward” culture among councillors.