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Preston planning chief rebuffs claims of “secret” Town Hall decisions

Posted on - 27th August, 2015 - 12:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Cottam, Housing, News, Politics, Preston Council
Cllr Jason Jeffrey and Cllr John Swindells

Cllr Jason Jeffrey and Cllr John Swindells

The man in charge of planning and development at Preston City Council has responded to criticism over a “secret meeting”.

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Councillor Jason Jeffrey claims the city council has u-turned on its commitment to defend decisions to reject planning applications made by planning committee.

Deputy leader, and cabinet member for planning and regulation, councillor John Swindells has responded to each of Cllr Jeffrey’s claims.

The point-by-point response is below:

Councillor Jeffrey: “In July, Labour Deputy Leader Coun John Swindells assured us that the Council would always defend planning decisions which were being appealed against.”

Councillor Swindells: “That is and always will be the case when an application goes to appeal.”

Cllr Jeffrey: “However, it now appears that a matter of weeks before Coun Swindells gave this assurance a secret meeting of the planning committee had decided that the Council would not defend itself in an appeal made against its decision to reject planning in the area around Hoyles Lane.”

Cllr Swindells: “There was no “Secret Meeting”. It was an agenda item (although late) which was considered at a regular, full meeting of the Planning Committee attended by all members of planning committee including a colleague of Cllr Jeffery. It contained privileged information and was taken as a Part B item following theexclusion of the press and public in the normal proscribed manner.

“The wording of the exemption is. Exempt information as defined in Paragraphs 3 & 5 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972. It is considered that in all the
circumstances the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing it.

“I know that Cllr Jeffery is a new councillor but he must be aware that on some council, cabinet or committees meetings items that disclose legal advice, commercially sensitive information or privileged information are heard as a part 2 item where members of the public are excluded as prescribed in the local government act.

“The application came back to committee at the last meeting and was heard again with the press and public in attendance.”

Cllr Jeffrey: “It now appears that Labour Councillors support secret planning meetings and that public representation is an inconvenience to be ignored. Secret meetings give the impression that Preston now has a two tier planning system, where developers are able to get their own way, regardless of residents concerns, just by threatening to appeal. Labour talk about the importance of a strong community – clearly here in Preston our Labour group would prefer a compliant community who do what they are told!”

Cllr Swindells: “The decision to was taken by Planning members of all parties except one member who abstained. It was not a decision of only the Labour councillors

“Councillor Jeffery appears not to know the difference in the roles of the cabinet member and the Planning committee chair.

“As cabinet member I do not sit on Planning committee. I do not decide what comes to planning committee and was not at any meetings secret or otherwise re the application that councillor Jeffery is questioning.

“The discussions whether the application was heard below the line was between the planning committee, planning officers and the councils legal officers. I played no part in this decision nor should I.”

Cllr Jeffrey: “Coun Jeffrey asked Coun Swindells if he agreed that secret, behind closed doors planning meetings were unacceptable, undemocratic and create a feeling of public mistrust in the Council and it’s planning process, to which Coun Swindells simply replied “no.”

Cllr Swindells: “There will always be times when committee has to go below the line. This happens not only on this occasion but happened recently when legal advice was given during the MACS license hearing and also at County Hall when legal advice was given during the fracking applications. In all cases the decisions we made in front of the public and the press.

“The area of the application has already been decided as one of the preferred the sites in North west Preston for the new homes that will see 5,000+ homes following public examination by the planning inspectorate.

“This is part of the city deal that will see £millions of investment in the the city.”

What do you make of the planning row? Do you live in the area? Let us know in the comments below

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