29 Sept 2016
Last night senior officers faced “a wall of condemnation” for trying to push through sweeping changes to planning in Milton Keynes.
If officers had succeeded, the changes would have stifled public dissent, stopped elected councillors hearing from objectors at planning committees, and handed draconian new powers to officers to approve or refuse applications without having to involve an elected committee at all!
Derek Eastman, a long-serving member of the planning committee, said “This puts the ‘gag’ in public engagement”, and described it as one of the most important motions that had ever come before the committee. Catriona Morris, another planning veteran, called for the officers who had decided to “entirely circumvent [the] democratic process” by coming up with these proposals without prior consultation to face disciplinary action.
A packed public gallery listened as senior officers try to justify these draconian changes in the name of “efficiency”, “cost-saving” and even “improving the public experience”!
Linda Inoki, speaking for Xplain, said “If you want to save time and money just throw out these undemocratic proposals tonight. Otherwise trust in the system will plummet to a fresh new low.”
Brett Leahy, the Development Manager who wrote the report, was not his usual confident self.
Buttoned up in a dark suit, throughout three hours of hot debate, he looked like an undertaker at his own funeral. His boss, Duncan Sharkey, wearing his trademark pink braces and pink tie, sank like a baked Alaska left in the oven. When it came to the crunch, not a single councillor put up his or her hand to second the officer’s recommendation to adopt these controversial changes. Defeated! Or were they?
In a surprise development, the Lib-Dem’s ensuing motion to keep public speaking rights etc the same was ALSO defeated, voted down by Tory and Labour members. Mick Legg (Lab), who has form when it comes to political tomfoolery, suddenly piped up and found “a lot of good” in the rejected officer’s report, which he would be “sorry” to lose.
The Tory chair, Andrew Geary, assured the by-now incredulous public gallery that consultation would solve everything, and even insisted “it could start tomorrow!”
After more kerfuffles, where Andrew Geary tried to cut members of the public OUT of any consultation, and succeeded in reducing the period from 12 to 8 weeks, it was finally decided that we, the public, will definitely be consulted, along with ward councillors and parish councils.
The big question is – on what?
- On cutting speaking rights for objectors from 3 to 1? While extending speaking rights for developers?
- On insisting that parish councils who object to an application attend planning committees where they will quite probably be unable to speak?
- On giving senior officers like Anna Rose, who sponsored this report, sweeping powers to decide if any applications will be sent to an elected committee to decide, instead of being swiftly marked “approved” by her own department, which is judged on its speed of despatch, and the number of cases it loses at appeal?
If officers try to re-hash their original, dire proposals, without opening up any dialogue first, they certainly should be disciplined – for arrogance alone. After all this public condemnation surely they realise that the people of MK, this fast-growing borough, will not be cut out of the planning system by power-hungry officers? Either in the name of “cost savings” or “improving the public participation experience”!