Friday, 16 November 2012

Brent challenged on Willesden Green planning process

Philip Grant writes:
The online copies of plans and supporting documents for the Willesden Green Library Centre applications (12/2924 and 12/2925) have finally appeared on Brent's Planning website (late on Thursday 15 November). They can be accessed at:
Comments and objections have also started to be posted, but the way these remove paragraph breaks, and substitute upside down question marks for apostrophes and quotations, makes any long comment very difficult to follow. A comment which I sent in on 12 November is an example, and as this raises an important issue for the way in which the planning application should be dealt with in practice, I am asking the hosts of the KWG blog to re-publish it here:
I am still unable to comment on the details of the planning application, because the plans and supporting documents are not yet available to view online. I am, however, writing to make clear that although the application is shown as being in the sole name of Galliford Try Plc, this is, in law, a joint application with the London Borough of Brent, and should be treated accordingly when considered by Brent's Planning Committee.

I have previously (in respect of the withdrawn application ref. 12/1190) put this point in writing to Brent's chief legal officer, Fiona Ledden. On 1 June 2012 she replied that:

'It is a requirement of the Development Agreement that Galliford Try Plc submits a planning application to the Council in respect of the proposed scheme and if planning permission is granted to carry out the development. In the circumstances it is not correct to say that the Council should be a party to that application.'

However, it is under that Development Agreement of February 2012, and all of the other surrounding facts and evidence, that Brent and Galliford Try are clearly engaged in a joint development project, whereby Galliford Try will build a new Cultural Centre for Brent in return for Brent giving Galliford Try the land on which to build flats for sale at a profit. The Development Agreement is a contract, but the requirement of that contract referred to by Ms. Ledden cannot over-ride the factual legal relationship between them which is that they are jointly engaged in the development. In law, both parties to a joint development should be named as "applicant" in planning applications in respect of that development.

The fact that Brent is a joint "applicant" (or even if this is still disputed, is at the very least an "interested party" in the application) means that item 12 of Brent's Planning Code of Practice applies. This states that:

'If any officer of the Council who is involved in making recommendations or decisions on planning applications has had any involvement with an applicant, agent or interested party, whether or not in connection with the particular application being determined, which could possibly lead an observer with knowledge of all the relevant facts to suppose that there might be any possibility that the involvement could affect the officer's judgement in any way, then that officer shall declare a prejudicial interest in the public register held by the Director of Regeneration and Major Projects and take no part in the decision making process. This public register to be available for inspection at Planning Committee meetings.'

Brent's Director of Regeneration and Major Projects, Andy Donald, is the person responsible for Brent Council's role in this planning application, and also the head of the department which includes Planning and Development. Therefore: 'any officer of the Council who is involved in making recommendations' on these applications has an 'involvement' with Andy Donald, and must declare a 'prejudicial interest' in the public register in connection with the application, 'and take no part in the decision making process'.

In another letter to me, of 27 June 2012, Fiona Ledden assured me that, whatever their personal views, members of the Planning Committee must approach their decision making with an open mind. She explained that:

'What in practice this means is that members of the planning committee are bound by the Council's Planning Code of Practice and if they have been involved in any way with promoting the scheme for Willesden Library they will be unable to vote on the planning application.'

As Planning Committee member Cllr. Ann John was clearly involved in promoting this redevelopment scheme, she will presumably be barred from voting on it.

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