After each set of local elections, we hold a few training sessions we ask all new councillors to attend. I jokingly refer to these sessions as ‘Introduction to not getting us sued’, it’s not the snappiest title, but it’s accurate because the biggest focus of the training is on what we’re not legally allowed to do.
Of all the council’s committees, Planning has the most rules because it is supposed to act ‘quasi-judicially’, essentially following the same process for ruling on applications as courts are required to do ruling on defendants’ innocence. Just as everyone expects to have a fair trial, every application is supposed to be assessed fairly, with decisions being taken based solely upon the evidence and arguments presented at the meeting, there’s no making your mind up before.
So, why am I writing about this now? Well, Robert Jenrick–the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the man who sets these rules, overruled the decision of a council and his own planning inspector, to enable a Conservative donor to massively increase his profits at the community’s expense, something even he admitted is unlawful.
And what did he decide? When new houses are built developers have to contribute to the cost of improving local facilities, like schools and GPs, so new residents don’t preventing existing residents from accessing them. The council had already given planning permission, Jenrick’s decision was to allow the Conservative donor to avoid paying the £150m local public services need to deal with the impact of the unaffordable housing he is planning to build.
New ‘cash for favours’ stories are emerging daily, but even now the Prime Minister refuses to fire Jenrick. Aside from the corruption just think of the hypocrisy. Jenrick sets the rules making it clear every decision has to be fair and based on evidence, he appoints inspectors to ensure that happens, that process is followed, then Jenrick overrules it. What evidence was that based on exactly? Or is it yet another case of this Government saying it’s one rule for them and one for the rest of us?
This piece was prepared as the Labour column for the Wednesday 1st July 2020 edition of the Crawley Observer. Unfortunately, due to an editorial disagreement over its wording, the column was not printed but is instead published here in its entirety.