Planning and Planning Decisions have long excited passions, so much so that one applicant who failed to get permission from Folkestone & Hythe District Council committed suicide.
This is a very rare occurence, yet it goes to show how strongly residents and applicants can be affected by decisions passed or not passed by officers and councillors of the planning committee.
Of late, there have been far too many “technical issues” and promises of “retraining” made by senior planning officers, regarding planning applications.
To put this right, the Council have recently advertised four vacancies for jobs in the planning department, with the lowest salary starting at £19,839 and the highest reaching £53,261.
“Officers are often treated as ‘scapegoats’ when people cannot do what they want to or feel they need to do.” [re: planning].
The job description goes on to give two actual examples:
An applicant committed suicide when his appeal to allow him to retain his unlawful dwelling was dismissed.
In a case where a [disabled] applicant wanted to extend, and the extension would have an unacceptable impact on a neighbouring property, so was refused, the applicant was distraught because she ‘could not move house’ because this was the house where her husband had died.
The work conditions for the senior planning officer make it clear they will be “subjected to some emotional and verbal abuse” from both customers and external stakeholders who can be very distressed by the potential implications of a planning decision (either as a nearby resident or as the applicant).
The four vacant positions available are:
And four posts were for review in October 2020.
Now for those of you who are not aware, a significant backlog of planning applications arose around the time the Council, as master developer for Otterpool, submitted its planning application on Feb 28th 2019.
The Council tendered a contract for a company who could help them clear the mounting planning application backlog, under the title of “Planning Application Clearing Service“.
The start date for the contract was April 1st 2019, yet the date the contract was awarded, was April 24th. And just six days later, the 30th April, the company were paid £6,340.
The contract was for 3 months with a review in June 2019, and had a value of £25,000. By the 25th June 2019, the council payment data shows the contractor was paid £24,577.
The outsourced provider who won the contract to provide a “Planning Application Clearing Service” for Folkestone & Hythe District was Whaleback Ltd.
Whaleback is based in Hove, and was incorporated on the 25 April 2018, and according to the latest set of accounts had two employees in 2019, and three in 2020.
Whaleback on their website say they “offer a new, alternative solution to employing agency contractors to clear your planning application backlog. Working remotely, we provide a fixed-fee report writing service with work completed within two weeks, providing guaranteed performance with zero risk. All work is undertaken in partnership with your planning officers and is indiscernible from in-house reports.“
Whaleback “provide a fixed-fee report writing service with work completed within two weeks”.
They were awarded the contract on the 24th April 2019, and were paid £6,340 just six days later. How many reports did they write in six days? Or were they already preparing reports before the contract was awarded?
For assiting in clearing the backlog, Whaleback Ltd have been paid £123,091 since April 2019. We are informed by very reliable sources, the backlog remains.
As such, we can understand planning applicants becoming “emotional“. The £123,091 worth of effort to clear the planning backlog, plays has played and continues to play havoc with some peoples lives as their application must be dealt with within statutory time limits.
The planning department have recently had “technical issues” . In another department there have been “internal errors with our systems“. Also, Cllrs we have spoken to were unable to gain access to their secure folkestone-hythe.gov.uk emails for two days, not too long ago. All these events occured within days of each other.
Back on track, it’s clear Folkestone & Hythe District Council Planning Department, led by Llewyln Lloyd (above left) and Cabinet Portfolio holder, Cllr David Wimble, responsible for planning, are on the evidence available, both running a ship which is detrimental to planning applicants health.
Hat tip: Bob.
The Shepway Vox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful