'Fail-safe' council planning system fails once again

PUBLISHED: 20:19 15 October 2008 | UPDATED: 13:39 06 May 2010

District council chief executive Daniel Goodwin

District council chief executive Daniel Goodwin

FAILINGS in St Albans District Council s planning system have been highlighted after an application for a new home was wrongly decided by officers instead of being referred to councillors. This is despite assurances last year - following three similar in

FAILINGS in St Albans District Council's planning system have been highlighted after an application for a new home was wrongly decided by officers instead of being referred to councillors.

This is despite assurances last year - following three similar incidents - that stringent measures were in place to ensure the council never saw a repeat of the problem.

In the latest case, permission was granted by the council's planning department for a new three-bedroom detached home on land adjacent to Lyndhurst Drive, Harpenden.

But the decision should have been made by planning councillors as Harpenden East district councillor Alison Steer exercised her prerogative to "call in" the application.

This oversight meant the neighbours lost their opportunity to voice their concerns to councillors and the issue was never fully debated.

The decision cannot be quashed by the council now that planning permission has been given though a challenge could be made though a Judicial Review.

Revelations about the blunder emerged during Tuesday night's Cabinet meeting when the council's chief executive Daniel Goodwin said: "We have got a problem in continued unreliable quality checking of the process involving planning applications. We thought that this process had been put right in the past and it needs considerable further work."

Mr Goodwin promised an "end-to-end review" of processes and he said the council might even take itself to a Judicial Review to remedy matters

Head of planning John Young told the cabinet that the mistake was down to human error.

He said a number of officers failed to notice that the application had been called in to committee but assured councillors that there was nothing wrong with the automated electronic procedure put in place following last year's mistakes.

Batchwood councillor Martin Leach said at the meeting: "This is sad news. This is all about confidence. These mistakes keep happening. I'm beginning to question if it's the system or if it's the amount of temporary staff we have in the planning department."

Mr Goodwin conceded that having a large number of temporary staff was a potential risk and said it was an area which would be addressed.

Speaking about the problem yesterday (Wednesday), Cllr Steer said she was disappointed that concerned local residents didn't get the chance to put their views.

She said: "I called the application in because there had been lots of applications for this very small site and others had been turned down. I am very unhappy it got granted. There is nothing anyone can do and that I feel upset about as well."

Cllr Steer has recommended that the case goes to a Local Government Ombudsman.

A spokesperson for St Albans District Council said that the marker on the application to indicate that it had been called in to committee was overlooked but she insisted that steps were taken immediately to make it more obvious.

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