MELTON: I hope my actions today will strengthen our case and reduce risk of costly action against Fenland Council

THE recent decision to grant planning permission to two stores in Whittlesey has caused a public and media outcry.

There is a perception that officers’ advice has been completely ignored and the council has granted three un-sustainable decisions.

Following intense discussions between myself, the deputy leader and John Clark (Portfolio Holder for Finance), we agreed that the Chief Executive seek advice from a specialist barrister (Head of Chambers), to advise the council of our legal position and possible financial liability.

The advice was that the decisions reached were un-sound and would not stand up to challenge in the high court, increasing the risk of huge financial penalties being levied against Fenland District Council.

The issue of member involvement and behaviour was also raised, before, during and after the relevant planning committee meetings.

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The barrister informed us that member behaviour raised a number of issues, and that the reasons for the planning committee decisions were not substantial planning reasons with which to overturn officer advice.

Subsequently, we were advised to take measures to mitigate the decisions.

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Step one is to set aside the decisions and run the planning committee again, this will ensure a fair and transparent hearing of all three applications.

However, there are a number of steps I need to take to demonstrate that member behaviour has improved.

There are also a number of complaints against members, some formal, which will have to be investigated.

I am therefore taking the following steps:

Councillor Jan French will be leaving the cabinet and planning committee as substantial complaints against her are to be investigated.

Councillor Martin Curtis has been asked to resign from planning committee.

All cabinet members will be removed from the planning committee with immediate effect.

All members of the planning committee will be interviewed and will have to

undertake training as prescribed by the Local Government Association and Planning Advisory Service.

The Chairman of the planning committee will undergo specialist training as prescribed by the LGA.

All newly nominated planning committee members will be subject to training.

It is hoped that by taking these steps, our case against possible judicial review will be strengthened and our risk to costs will be reduced or mitigated.

I wish to make it clear: This document does not in any way give any direction towards any further recommendations or decisions.

But it will ensure that whatever the result of the subsequent planning committee deliberations and decisions, they will be sustainable and beyond reproach.

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