Comment 19 January 2002

The Report of Nigel Eveleigh, Head of Planning and Building Control Services and Martin Harris, Borough Secretary and Solicitor, to the Members of the Working Party on 10.10.2002
"The Report is an initial response, to the various 'Key Issues' raised in the Director of Operational Services, John Haynes' report on the Telephone House Application, and the Motion by Cllr Roy Bullock to Full Council on 4th December 2001.
The report summarises the significant changes taking place to the environment in which development control operates, and highlights the opportunities for the improvement of practice, procedures and performance."




    The joint report demonstrates yet again the continuing failure of Officers to appreciate that they are the servants and not the masters of Members.

  1. Paragraph 22) It is suggested in all seriousness: "We [officers] do not believe that any individual Member should therefore have, or be perceived to have, the opportunity to influence or amend what is in it [the statement of Common Ground]." The Telephone House debacle showed that; had Cllr Price as Chairman of WAPC known or at least been advised about the content of the Statement of Common Ground, much of the disaster could have been avoided.

    There is every reason to welcome input from Members, or even third parties (para 23) who have ideas which may help the Council's case.

    The failure to consult Members of the Western Area Planning Committee and third parties meant that the errors and deficiencies in the Telephone House Statement of Common Ground were not corrected. This was one of the reasons for the appeal succeeding and costs being awarded against the Council.

  2. Paragraph 33) This statement is in stark contrast to Cllr Bullock's motion "Members reaffirm their right to represent all parties, when considering planning applications."
    Officers' opinion is that if a Member chooses to act as a representative or advocate for a particular individual or group, will disqualify himself/herself from being involved in determining planning applications.
    - In the Courier (18.01.02), Mr Haynes (Director of Operational Services) threatens: "The final planning decision could be legally challenged, if Councillors entered into such talks" [with third parties, ie Civic Society]

    These are statements, which cannot be left unchallenged by Members. Constituents expect that they are represented by democratically elected Councillors.

  3. Paragraph 39) Proper complete and accurate minutes of all Committee proceedings and reasons should be taken whether or not the latter supports or overturns Officers' recommendations.

    If this had been done in the Telephone House case, it would have become apparent to Members as soon as the Minutes were published how poor the advice of Officers had been and might have been possible to put matters right.

  4. Paragraph 41) It should be obligatory for the Chairman or the local Members to be informed immediately of an appeal and further to be kept advised of progress. If the appeal is being dealt with correctly then the decision of the officer will be endorsed. If not the Members must of right be able to intervene.

  5. Paragraph 43) and 45) Improved training to Members. We welcome the proposals and appreciate the difficulty facing Officers when Members come and go at the whim of the electorate. Whilst it may be difficult to train Members before they are appointed to an area committee it should be mandatory for them to undergo an immediate crash course thereafter.
    Members should also spend time studying how area committees operate in other councils.
    Paragraph 43/45 deal with key issue 7 of training members. It is surprising that the officers who decided what the key issues should be did not think that better training could assist Officers as well.

Conclusion

It is essential that Members take control of the Planning Department and that officers appreciate they are answerable to Members and must execute faithfully their decisions. The culture of secrecy and disdain towards Members must be done away with. Members and Officers must work more closely together in an harmonious atmosphere.



Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's Internal Inquiry into
the Telephone House Debacle

The Telephone House Neighbours Association, Tunbridge Wells
The aims are to heighten peoples' awareness and concern for the controversial high density development on
Telephone House site, Church Road / York Road, Tunbridge Wells.