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DAMESATHOME@YAHOO.CO.UK
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Saturday, 20 February 2016

SHOULD THE PLANNING DEPT BE HAVING SECRET TALKS WITH DEVELOPERS?


The Pre-Planning Advice service is a vehicle for planning officers to 'engage' with developers and, as one influential RA chairman said, "to help unscrupulous developers skirt around the difficult bits in planning rules, partnering them right up to the submission of the application. This cannot be in the interests of residents".

Another planning expert commented, "It's good for developers. Good for the council(extra income). Not good, as usual, for us, the unwashed masses"

The Dame says, " the council should not be taking money to help developers through the grey areas of planning: that is a job for the shady and avaricious Savills"

In future, all such pre-planning advice should be made public on the Council website. 
This will prevent conflicted interests.

39 comments:

  1. Dearest Dame, the Director of Planning has just stated that pre-planning advice WILL be made public. Not sure why this request here.

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    1. Consultants like Savills and Knight Frank tell developers that they have an "inside track" with the Hornton Street planners. "Give us your project and we guarantee to get it through" they say.

      Estate Agents are not noted for their intellect. Usually they are public school boys who cannot find work elsewhere. So it is not brains that give them the inside track. It is contacts and brown envelopes.

      Publishing pre application advice is a waste of space. The rats will still continue their filthy work.

      Clean it up, Paget-Brown.

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    2. Hear...hear... absolutely so...

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  2. Dear Dame, fully supportive of the notion that all information be on the council website and hope that the comment at 13:52 is fully implemented. But are we actually sure that all information is presented on the website? I am looking at a situation right now where some information does not appear to be there, for example discharges of planning conditions. Can one rely on the website to include everything or is there some backroom or file drawers where things sit that are not put on the site? The initiative is only effective if it can be represented that the website is a full and complete file.

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  3. 13:52 the Dame believes that 14:52 covers the issue. But, of greater importance is this.... should the Council even be providing this sort of 'cuddly' service?
    The Dame thinks it allows an inappropriate level of contact. Scrap it....

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    1. Quite right. The whole apparatus is a Concert Party designed to stitch up residents.

      And Officers feel powerful and important dishing out "winks" to developers.

      And of course the process breeds huge distrust and loathing with the electorate.

      Bin it.

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  4. The Dames's Investigator20 February 2016 at 19:33

    The Kensington Society has found that Planning Officers operate two internet servers for planning matters. One for the public and a more detailed record for Officers.

    Officers are intent on controlling and manipulating the public

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  5. Officers want to streamline the system and it helps them to tick the box if they can cosy up to developers in secret. After pressure from the Kensington Society we now know that Hornton Street will publish "pre application advice". As an ex bureaucrat in Whitehall this brought a big smile to my face. It is a joke. A big joke. What is written will as often as not be different from what was said.

    This is a political matter. Councillors need to understand the huge damage to democracy when false perceptions arise. Pre application meetings need to be abolished. Let the developers apply at their own risk. This will allow residents to feel that there is total transparency.

    Wake up Paget-Brown. Get your house in order.

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    Replies
    1. yes, but is PB also benefiting from this? Directly or not? Who knows?

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  6. Documents routinely disappear from the planning website. Certain officers remove or amend the available information at will.

    Pre application, private chats between officers and applicants result in recommendations to grant planning permission, for projects that contravene policy. The applicants claim pre-approval from officers, while neighbours are discouraged from even attempting to voice their objections. All very cosy.

    Sorry Ex-Mandarin. In this weekend's "Kensington & Chelsea News" the Leader's column is headed: "Our planners deserve credit." Much of the text is devoted to insulting those residents who dare to criticise the planning department.

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    1. No surprise here. The Rotten Borough has a long history of bashing residents. If Paget-Brown continues the tradition he will just have to get used to growing hostility from the hornets and periodic bashings from the media (Evening Standard, Mail, Private Eye et al). And the time will come when he has to walk the plank - just like disgraced ex Leader Cllr Cockle

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    2. Retired Chief Executive21 February 2016 at 08:16

      Planning Officers are hunkered down in a maze of boxes to be ticked and rules to be interpreted. There is some light relief from exercising power with developers (indulging them and, it is widely believed, the welcome brown envelope). Unfortunately Officers are blinkered from the needs and aspirations of residents - the very people who they work for and whose lives are supposed to be protected by democracy. Directors of Planning in Hornton Street have consistently failed to train their staff to "think resident". And Leaders like Cockell and now Paget-Brown, fail in their duty to create a culture in the Town Hall that is sensitive to the wider world.

      Building a mature organisation is a tall order. In local Government this has become an imperative. The Hornton Street leadership continues to fail on the job.

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    3. Kensington and Chelsea News needs to be careful. They are giving free columns to some strange people. The Chairwoman of the Westway Trust has her weekly column. And we all know what a waste of space she is. The owner of Pimlico Plumbers (Charlie Mullins) gets his weekly column. Why? This week the national papers have exposed what a shallow and shady character he is. Paget-Brown also gets his weekly column. What is going on? The media are supposed to hold politicians to account - they should not be their mouthpiece. We are not living in Moscow.

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    4. Yes... who owns the paper? To give a free platform to those who are not interested in the residents' wishes and needs?

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    5. Be fair, they are giving columns to EDC as well

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    6. Kensington Resident22 February 2016 at 12:20

      Glad to hear that EDC has a column. A bit of political balance. But I must admit, I have never seen it.

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  7. She not chairwoman of the Westway Trust, but chief exec. The new chairman has gone abroad. In December he adjourned his first AGM when reps from several member organisations objected to the minutes, due to mis-recorded votes. Despite this, the lady claims it's business as usual. The Trust's unpopular plans to sweep away neighbourhood assets in order to pursue commercial profits, are to go ahead as originally planned. Without a successful AGM, one wonders how Trust officers manage to draw their salaries. Trust revenue is about £12 million pa of public funds, from which only about £300k goes to local good causes. The rest is spent on expenses, e.g. Trust officers's salaries. Enough said.

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  8. It's the same old smoke and mirrors. We recently requested an FOI from the council which was granted. I think we will re inspect these documents and a request to RBKC that we received information from both servers . The problem with this is how do we know if they've given us everything or not !

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  9. The Tories are now ending democracy in this borough - reducing the number of meetings, cutting them short by one hour so that real issues cannot be debated - and Queen Elizabeth is to become Mayor. We can only hope that Elizabeth Windsor will remember to curtsey to Mrs. Rutherford at the appropriate moments!

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    1. ER? What an excellent choice. The Dame is always so rude about her, hint of jealousy perhaps? Surely not! Elizabeth will be a wonderful Mayor.

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  10. The issue is the dubious meetings between planning officers and their "chosen" clients. In theory they should prevent unsuitable planning applications being made. In practice they are opportunities for collusion.

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  11. This issue is about to become even more mired in darkness with the new housing bill, which basically gives favour to developers without even the presumption that they will be held to account by local planning departments, residents will basically be left out of the equation, in the rush to meet the imposed new home building targets. Oh and householders are to be allowed to build upwards even in conservation areas too, so having ruined our lives with double and triple basement building and endless extensions we can now add another couple of years for building upwards tand our skyline.

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  12. The sad fact is that even when our planning committee takes a stand the developer wins out in the end, by throwing endless money at it and decisions are overthrown at appeal such as the lodge in Holland Park, the Vicarage Gate Nursing home site, and currently the Kensington Odeon (awaiting decision) .

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  13. So far it's only a parliamentary bill. If the Commons fails in its duty to the public, Lords will doubtless take a scalpel to it.

    The issue for many of us is what goes on before the committee discusses applications. Officers have a habit of recommending granting permission for certain clients of certain very special architects with the right connections.

    Only a small minority of such cases ever need to go to appeal.

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  14. Just my view and I'm happy to revisit this if I can be politely and truthfully corrected but -

    I'm not sure why people don't understand that pre-planning advice is very like bothering to get legal advice before you go to Court. You can use the Duty Manager or represent yourself, but if you have the cash you can employ a fancy solicitor/barrister to give you advice (or former Cllr Cunningham). The advice they give is no guarantee of approval - just like in Court. Planning is quite properly called a 'quasi-judicial' process.

    And for the record the Council doesn't make a profit out of this. As a discretionary service, they aren't allowed to.

    It's a shame that the rather lazy - sorry everyone! - habit of blaming officers for everything has blighted this debate. They aren't in charge; Councillors are. In particular, of course, the majority party and specifically Cabinet Members. So rant and rail at them.

    For the record if I ever come across evidence of potential corruption I report it, as legal officers know. This applies to any area of the Council's business, without fear or favour.

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    1. wow... man.. you must be very, very busy...reporting....

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    2. Member, Campden Hill Residents Association22 February 2016 at 19:10

      Dear EDC
      Ref corruption, remind me to show you a copy of the investigators report into the affairs of disgraced Cllr Phelps, a past Chairman of the Planning Committee.

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    3. Cllr Warwick, the current Chairman of Planning, regularly comes in for a pasting by the hornets. It is apallling that Paget-Brown has not got shot of the reptile.

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    4. Labour has all the files on Phelps ready and available for inspection by a proper investigator - including some that Campden Hill don't have.

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  15. Have just seen in Friday's standard that the Odeon appeal has been allowed. Goodbye cinema entrance on High street, all that will be there us what remains of the building portico and a luxury block of flats. Bad enough that the design museum is completely obscured by the cubes, but now our Cinema, will be banquished to Earl's Court road, for Minerva's scheme which has 'will deliver in excess of 125,00 square feet iof prime residential floor space, accessed through the retained Art Deco facade'. I am sure that like myself many will feeling absolutely sickened by this news.

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  16. The much respected Cllr EDF comes to officers' defence. She believes that nothing but clarity emerges from private chats between applicants and officers.

    The problem is that these days applicants seem more able than ever to convince officers that the moon is made of green cheese. In their so called planning and heritage statements, applicants' agents now proclaim that they have official pre-approval for whatever destructive development they have in mind.

    Such statements are designed to give neighbouring residents the impression that the application is a done deal. And they succeed. Residents are deterred from even trying to object. Officers duly produce a formidably supporting report. Planning is immensely complex, so there are very few objections. In the vast majority of cases, applications are simply waived through via officer discretion.

    Only residents suffer, so no one cares a jot. This is the reality. However well intentioned, pre-application advice has made the public's experience of the planning process far worse than it's ever been.

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    Replies
    1. Not quite what I said Resident. The issue here may be that the whole process has become highly professionalised, and applicants (whether private or corporate) with vast sums of money can run rings round the system - just like the legal system. And yes I agree some of it can be deliberately obtuse and intimidating and leave objectors feeling powerless.

      I guess we will just have to get better at responding to planning applications. Maybe Chelsea Soc or Kensington Soc could help with that?

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  17. Very naïve. How hard do officers defend councillors' decisions at appeal if they have voted against officer recommendations?

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  18. With great respect to Cllr EDC, there always have been and still are two planning systems in RBKC. One exists for the benefit of certain selected applicants and their chosen advisors and another for the rest of us.

    A small, voluntary organisation like Ken Soc cannot be expected to carry the entire burden of an institutionally corrupt planning system. They already do vastly more than their fair share.

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    1. You may be right, Resident, though there is a world of difference between residential planning apps and what used to be called 'Major' planning. Decisions on appeal are very very hard to take, as discussed above, and that system is balanced against the ordinary householder wanting a modest extension who can't afford to appeal. The only ones benefitting whatever the decision are the planning consultants and lawyers.

      So what do you suggest we do to address this situation?

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  19. The problem is not appeals, but the official support certain applicants and their agents receive during pre-application "discussions" and the travesty that passes for public consultations. In such cases objectors are actively discouraged from expressing their views. If cases manage to get to committee, officers have as much time as they need to present the applicants' case, while objectors get 3 minutes to respond. It's common knowledge that Tory committee members receive instructions on how to vote on each application the day before the meeting. Planning is a stitch up from beginning to end and everyone knows it.

    As objectors or applicants, mere residents are left to fend for themselves.

    The best hope of a solution to this problem would be for one Cllr EDC to be Leader of the Labour group. Unfortunately, most of her colleagues vastly prefer attending the Mayor's sherry parties rather than mounting an effective political opposition.

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  20. One key element of this problem is the lack of time and opportunity given to objectors. Three minutes is laughable and of course the planning hearings are biased in favour of applicants who come to the committee with an officer's recommendation to approve. This is one aspect that the Leader of the Council could easily amend if he were so minded. I know the Labour Group opposed this change at the time, but people who think Labour can magically alter how this council works have no understanding of how the tyranny of majority voting works.

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  21. This issue, like so many others, boils down to the fact that the rotten borough is a one party state. Everything it does is rotten. Over the years those best placed to do so have ensured that the system works for their personal benefit, rather than for residents. No level of denial will make residents believe otherwise, because the evidence is everywhere, if one cares to seek it out.

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