Planning cuts

PUBLISHED: 10:15 30 October 2008 | UPDATED: 13:43 06 May 2010

SIR, — Last month I shared, with fellow readers, my concern as to where proposed cuts in St Albans District Council s planning department might be found. This concern was due to the comments of Cllr Robert Donald and Cllr Chris Brazier in the full counci

SIR, - Last month I shared, with fellow readers, my concern as to where proposed cuts in St Albans District Council's planning department might be found.

This concern was due to the comments of Cllr Robert Donald and Cllr Chris Brazier in the full council meeting on September 10 stating the chop would not be falling, as had been long expected, on the beleaguered conservation team. I know what was said that evening as I observed the meeting. Little did I realise that within weeks the assertion I heard by those two councillors would be found at best misleading or at worse downright disingenuous.

Secretly, after I and others were asked to leave the Cabinet meeting held on October 14, Cllrs Donald, Brazier and colleagues discussed and decided the fate of the conservation team. The outcome I learnt from the council's website on October 20 - that one conservation officer would be absorbed into development control and another post cut completely.

However despite knowing this I was still asked to leave when the same item came up for examination on October 21 at the Overview and Scrutiny meeting. So why, as the decision was already in the public domain, could I not hear the all-party committee scrutinise this? Has the democratic process in St Albans been emasculated and if so, by whom? This is one debate that must be held urgently and in public.

I have attended a number of conferences where conservation officers from all over the country have discussed at length their wide-ranging roles and responsibilities within historic areas such as ours. Their councils' support is obvious. They are passionate about their work, just as Jayne West with nigh on 30 years dedicated service to this city and district, and her team of unsung heroes are in St Albans.

Here, though, this specialist section is obviously not valued or understood. Neither will they until a near or actual disaster faces them. Our development control team seem to be a continuing car crash in progress and yet portfolio holders still seem to be in denial. No wonder serious mistakes happen and morale must be zero. They also failed to understand the importance of the Local Development Framework (LDF). John Chapman, with again over 30 years dedicated service, and his small team were left struggling to prepare our LDF until the truly damning PAS report earlier this year. The report stated "There is still insufficient understanding of the role of the LDF to deliver the community and corporate priorities at member and officer level....." Well at long last there is good news for John and his besieged team - 2.75 new permanent posts are being created.

The city vision project is about to get underway, paid for by promising to deliver the Government housing targets, which is kept quiet. Yet we get portfolio holders gushing and getting distracted by proposed piecemeal developments of flats, shops and numerous hotels dotted around our city centre, which has the potential to wreak more havoc on the city's character. Don't they get what master planning is all about?

We will never retain or attract quality staff so long as this council allows the perception to abound throughout the planning professional ranks that St Albans doesn't appreciate the importance of the planning service. The new "Communications Strategy" to "focus on proactive, good-news publicity" and "to ensure a holistic approach to communication..... covering media relations, marketing, branding" - is cart before the horse, I suggest. Firstly the cabinet needs to focus on providing quality core council services.

Dean Goodman seems to have been the only fall guy for all the planning woes. I believe it is the politicians, who presided over this struggling department, who have treated the democratic process with distain and have been less than candid with fellow councillors who are to blame and residents should realise they are not up to the job.

VANESSA GREGORY,

Tennyson Road, St Albans.

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