To introduce myself, I worked within what may be described as the development industry for in excess of 40 years before retiring to Cambridgeshire.
Not, I should stress, within the Fenland area.
Frequently I was required to work with the planning officers and councillors at various local authorities and I have as a consequence attended and observed more planning committee meetings than I care to remember.
Upon reading the two features that you carried in April regarding planning at Fenland Council my professional interest was somewhat piqued.
I have thus viewed all of the Fenland planning committee meetings since with mounting incredulity and no little horror.
After reading your recent feature ‘Turmoil inside Fenland Council over code of conduct planning challenges’, I believe you may be appreciative of my observations.
In all of my years I cannot recall having seen a planning committee which is as unfit for purpose as Fenland’s.
The meetings seem rather shambolically run, whilst the contributions of the councillors may best be described as banal, ill-informed, and downright misguided.
Most concerning though is the decision making of the committee.
Decisions are frequently irrational, perverse, inconsistent, and showing a disregard for planning policies which borders on contemptuousness, and thus demonstrating similar ignorance of the legal duty for the committee’s decisions to be made in accordance with said policies.
Since the elections in May it is clear that the slimmed down committee, as your latest feature intimates, seems intent on the abandonment of any form of ethically, procedurally, or lawfully correct decision making.
Indeed, the outrageous and highly troubling comments made by Councillor Ian Benney during the August meeting, which were, to summarise; that nobody would legally challenge the committee’s decisions and if they were to the Council Tax payer would pay the costs of this, really gave the game away in that there is not even an artifice of this committee intending to take ‘proper’ decisions.
A number of the councillors seem almost in awe of their more strident colleagues and certainly rarely argue for a more responsible form of decision making.
From my observations prior to May there were at least a handful of councillors who appeared willing to stand for probity.
I could cite numerous decisions which are typical of this approach from the last few months.
The decision which you reference in your feature from the July meeting at Highland View, Benwick Road, Doddington is a prime example having previously been refused by the committee on matters of principle as being outside the village.
That the re-submitted application was granted by the committee with complete disregard for the previous decision and the requirement for consistency in Fenland’s own code of conduct, let alone this being a generally accepted expectation from any reasonable decision-making body, is unbelievable in itself. If one reviews the actual planning merits of the application the decision appears as even more unbelievable.
The site is a field, maybe a half mile or more beyond the village limits and which no reasonable person could describe as being “in the village”.
You also reference the decision at High Road, Gorefield at August’s meeting. This was, again, a troubling decision for the reasons you set out.
However perhaps a more disturbing example of the committee’s bizarre and irresponsible decision making actually occurred earlier within that meeting.
The application in question concerned a builders yard in what appears as the countryside near to Murrow with some neighbouring residences. Both Fenland’s environmental health office and the county council’s highway office objected to the application.
Ordinarily such specialist professional advice would carry significant weight with a committee.
Fenland’s however summarily disregarded this in a manner bordering on the casual. It was almost as though they just did not want to brook any argument which would run counter to granting the application.
If I were a resident of Fenland, I should be deeply troubled by the approach my elected representatives were taking to matters of planning and the consequences for the type of area in which one would find oneself living in the future, given the wanton dereliction to protecting the environs which the committee appears to have adopted.
I should also be concerned as to the seeming lack of responsibility exercised by the committee to take correct and unreproachable decisions, and thus the potential for exposing the Council Tax payer to financial liabilities associated with such actions.
Indeed, to take these concerns a stage further given how far wide of the requirements of planning policy and any elementary mark of reasonableness some of the committee’s decisions are and the imbecilic reasoning expressed it would, in my belief, not be unreasonable for one to ask the question; What on earth is happening to Fenland’s planning committee?
I do so hope that my comments are of interest to you.
(the letter writer’s full details have been provided to the Editor)
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