A succession of mistakes at Greenwich Council’s planning department has resulted in external consultants being called in to help.
Regional Enterprise Ltd will provide “planning application services” for the Council at a rate of £45 an hour. The total spend is expected to be £50,000 but could rise to £100,000.
EDIT: It appears Regional Enterprise Ltd is a joint venture between Capita and Barnet Council. Barnet’s Labour Cllrs have criticised the organisation. Still, desperate times…
Failures in the department include “an absence of performance management including coaching and mentoring staff and absence of good practice which leads to officers doing their own thing and duplicating work.”
In just the past few months Greenwich failed to submit any evidence to William Hill’s appeal for yet another betting shop on Plumstead High Street despite the Planning Inspectorate, which handles appeals, contacting them numerous times for information.
The Planning Inspectorate labelled Greenwich Council’s behaviour as “clear, abject and repeated failure” and awarded costs against. Residents now have to pick up the bill. Here’s the ruling:
Greenwich’s planning department did it again with a plan for 22 homes behind the former east Greenwich library. The Planning Inspectorate labelled the council’s behaviour as “indefensible” on that occasion:
The council may also have failed to spot that space above shops on Plumstead High Street were being used as homes for years without permission or council tax being paid.
They also failed to decide in time on a 27-home development without a single affordable home in Greenwich, so that automatically went to appeal.
All that just in the past couple of months, so something had to happen.
Whilst calling in external help may help against any more failures and subsequent awards of costs against Greenwich Council, it’s still not going to come cheap.
How did it get to this stage?
Greenwich Council have received at least £45 million over the past five years from the “New Homes Bonus” scheme. An in-depth post on the scheme will appear later this week, but in brief it’s income from central government based on the number of homes built in an authority each year. Part of that should have bolstered planning staff to cope with increased demand.
Despite numerous failings of the department, no one has so far been held accountable, least of all the elected politicians in charge such as Greenwich Deputy Leader and Labour Councillor for Shooters Hill Danny Thorpe.
A day before news broke that Greenwich Council had not submitted any evidence to the planning appeal for William Hill, he derided the Planning Inspectorate for overriding Greenwich Council without mentioning the failure by the council to reply to the Inspectorate’s appeal for information.
He is giving no assurances that an investigation into the catalogue of failings will be made public. Last week the council blocked a Freedom of Investigation request into information. Appeals are now being looked into and questions asked to higher authorities.
The same old lack of transparency goes on. It’s the kind of thing that has led to numerous failing departments across Greenwich borough with some councillors appearing to back them up instead of asking questions on the side of residents.
When was the last time you saw a Greenwich Labour councillor reply to a concern on Twitter or Facebook and chase it up with a department and give a public reply? Almost never. Emailing them isn’t much better.
Continuing mistakes and frustration has seen independent parties spring up in recent weeks to contest next May’s local elections.