Writing in their newsletter they question if the system meets the “smell test” when it comes to respecting Lord Nolan’s Seven Principles of Public Life.
They highlight the second of those principles ’Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work.”
and the third stating “Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.”
In April 2020, South Hams District Council entered in to a Planning Performance Agreement with local developer Baker Estates.
As the Agreement states, it “is a project management tool which allows all parties to agree priorities and resources for the handling of planning applications,” specifically intended “to manage the planning process for applications to by made by Baker Estates Limited (‘the Applicant’) to South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council (collectively ‘the Councils’) including but not limited to sites at Dartmouth, Dartington, Tavistock, Kingsbridge.”
The Agreement requires the Council to provide a dedicated planning officer to work exclusively on applications from Baker Estates for as many as three days each week. In return Baker Estates have agreed to pay the Council for his services.
The Society asks how such an arrangement can meet the requirements of the Nolan Principles?
“That’s because the Council is not only required to engage positively and proactively at all times to seek solutions to any problems that arise while determining any planning applications from Baker Estates, but to work with Baker Estates to agree a programme that optimises efficient application of both team’s resources, reduces delivery risks, and seeks to actively resolve issues should they arise.
The Society article concludes “it is essential that the planning process is seen to be objective, impartial and independent of any vested interest.
And while developers continue to pay for a dedicated planning officer to evaluate their applications, that is clearly not the case. No matter the financial pressures the Council may be under, such Agreements simply stink.”
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