Posted: Mon 8th Feb 2021

Flintshire planning chief hits out over ‘unwarranted and unfounded’ criticism of officers

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Feb 8th, 2021

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Flintshire Council’s planning chief has hit out over “unwarranted and unfounded” criticism of his staff.

It follows a councillor being forced to make a public apology after questioning whether the local authority’s handling of a housing application should be referred to the police.

Cllr Bernie Attridge was accused of launching a “witch hunt” against officers after condemning the way they dealt with proposals for 80 houses in Gwernaffield, near Mold, which were refused at a virtual meeting in December.

The former deputy council leader asked whether North Wales Police should be called in as a case officer originally advised the developers the plans would be acceptable.

Cllr Attridge later apologised after admitting he failed to mention that the response he received indicated there were no grounds for police involvement.
Chief planning officer Andrew Farrow has now spoken out over the level of scrutiny his department has attracted since it was required to change working practices because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a report, he said: “There has been significant, relentless pressure and complaint from members and the public regarding virtual planning committee and site visits which continues and is unlike any other pressure experienced by other planning services throughout North Wales.

“A significant amount of time is given over each month by the service manager responding to claims that the service has deliberately reported an item to planning committee during this time to prevent a planning committee site visit taking place.

“Members will be aware that shortly before Christmas at a planning committee a member stated during a public meeting that the service should be investigated by North Wales Police.

“These are the same senior officers who are leading the enforcement element of the service which are subject to this unwarranted and unfounded public criticism.”

The report details how the council deals with the 400 complaints it receives on average each year in relation to breaches of planning rules.

Mr Farrow said the performance of enforcement officers was hindered at the start of the pandemic, with only 16 cases closed during the first quarter of 2020/21, compared to up to 60 normally.

However, he said the team carried out a significant amount of work to improve figures, including by using a drone to record footage of a development at one site during lockdown.

He also highlighted that only 15 per cent of cases raised required intervention and accused some complainants of overstating planning issues.

He said: “Some complaints have been significantly exaggerated and levels of concern and can be escalated to the leader of the council, chief executive, cabinet members, MS and MPs.

“When an emergency visit is undertaken, the works do not reflect the nature of the complaint made and the concern levels escalated.

“These incidents have a huge impact on resources and have a significant negative impact on service delivery.”

The report will be discussed by members of the authority’s environment and economy scrutiny committee tomorrow (Tuesday, 9 February).

Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).

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