Friday brief: Inspectors raise concerns to West unitary’s legal officer about worrying practices in planning
Plus a round up of some news from across the county
A team of inspectors who had a thorough look at the planning system in the West Northants unitary has found ‘worrying’ relationships between officers and referred behaviour witnessed at one planning meeting to the authority’s chief legal officer.
The team of experienced councillors appointed by the Local Government Association to carry out a review into planning on the council’s own request has written a damning indictment of the service, which has been running for two years since the unitary started.
“Whilst we found some strong working relationships between officers and councillors, we also found some worrying officer member relationships and have raised concerns about some conduct we observed.”
The authority runs three planning committees - aligned to the former geographic areas of the previous councils of Northampton, Daventry and South Northamptonshire.
“We observed some worrying culture and practice in one of the committees that we attended which we have referred to the council’s Monitoring Officer for consideration. The practice that we saw we consider could potentially pose a significant risk to the council in terms of reputation, and also in terms of potential financial costs.”
When the authority turned up to view the planning committee meeting at Daventry they found the building was locked and staff did not welcome them in. By law planning committees must be held in the open and accessible to the public.
It is unclear from the report whether this was the incident that was referred to the council’s legal officer.
The Conservative-led council is headed by Cllr Jonathan Nunn and Cllr Rebecca Breese is the councillor in charge of overseeing planning.
The review found the service was fragmented and still operating as if it was three separate councils and inspectors recorded finding ‘very low’ morale among most officers they met.
They also discovered the authority does not have an ‘overall picture’ of developers’ contributions worth millions of pounds and communities could be missing out.
They found West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) inherited complex and ‘in some cases poorly documented’ developer agreements from its predecessor councils when it was established in 2021. As a result, it “does not have a consistent, clear way of reporting developer contributions or chasing amounts due”.
That could impact on developments and delivering infrastructure in them such as roads, parks and schools. Work to move all applications onto a single WNC website is expected to be completed in the summer.
The review found the planning service’s performance was ‘not strong’, was deteriorating and that a backlog of undetermined applications was rising. Since the report was received by the authority in December, WNC’s assistant director for planning and development, Stephanie Gibrat, has started work and a restructure has begun.
The peers also found town and parish councils were ‘incandescent’ with the service. It found some were ‘extremely angry with a perceived lack of transparency and unwillingness to engage’. Some of WNC’s own councillors spoke of a ‘lack of customer focus and poor communications’ from parts of the service.
A statement issued by the council’s media team did not reference the poor findings, instead saying it welcomed the review.
Cllr Rebecca Breese, said the authority was looking forward ‘to providing a new fit for purpose system for our residents and service users.”
Recommendations made to improve the service include better management practices and putting workforce development plans in place. It also suggested the authority, which is run by chief executive Anna Earnshaw, develops a comprehensive approach to planning and capitalises on the opportunities offered by being a unitary council.
WNC’s cabinet will discuss the review at a meeting on Tuesday.
Report by Nathan Briant and Sarah Ward
News in brief
A specialist team is today searching the River Tove in a bid to find missing man Jayran, 20. He has been missing since 6pm on Tuesday, March 21.
This week the police released an image of his black North Face jacket which was found by a member of the public on a gate in Northampton Road next to the Watermeadows.
Neighbourhood Chief Inspector, Pete Basham, said the force has carried out extensive enquiries and now have to ‘consider the possibility that if Jayran has been in the area around where his jacket was found, he may have gone into the river.’
“ . . . we believe Jayran’s jacket was found elsewhere before it was placed on the gate by the Watermeadows. If you saw the jacket in another location or were the person who hung it on the gate, please call us.”
Anyone with information is urged to speak to local officers or call the incident room on 101, quoting incident number 20230504/219.
A proposed logistics warehouse that some neighbours said would be an unwelcome ‘colossus’ has been given the go-ahead.
North Northamptonshire Council’s (NNC) strategic planning committee was initially asked about the project on land north of Gretton Road in Corby in February.
But it deferred the decision, asking for further changes to be made to the project’s biodiversity.
Developers Mulberry came back once it had made amendments which they said were its ‘very best compromise’.
The site will be used by multinational company CEVA Logistics. About 50 lorries will be expected to enter or leave the site every hour during peak times.
Graham Stray, the secretary of the Priors Hall Park Neighbourhood Association, told the committee the building would be a ‘colossus’ and the “wrong design in the wrong place”.
He said residents in Kestrel Road, Lake Drive and Hobby Drive, all close to the site, would be particularly badly affected.
But Tom Burn from Mulberry said it had come up with a design that meets the needs of CEVA ‘whilst listening and reacting when possible to all the concerns raised’.
Increased screening around the site will include nearly 1,400 saplings or semi-mature and mature trees, he said.
Weldon Parish Council’s Michael Page, who was opposed to the plan, said he understood the site had been earmarked for commercial development. But he felt the size of the building ‘doesn’t feel right.
Five committee members approved the plan, two opposed it and one abstained at a meeting on Wednesday.
Report by Nathan Briant
Northamptonshire Police’s chief constable Nick Adderley has returned to the role after just over a month into a temporary retirement. Adderley had served more than the standard 30 years for a police officer and had he worked without the break his pension would have been adversely affected.
Adderley finished work on Sunday, February 26 and was replaced by temporary chief constable Paul Gibson.
Adderley’s new £165,000-a-year contract will be initially for two-and-a-half years.
The force is rated as requires improvement in most areas. Adderley has said there is much work still to do particularly in building stronger links to communities.
Report by Nathan Briant
Read a story we published in October about the lack of police community support officers on the county’s streets
Sywell Aviation Museum opens tomorrow at 10.30am. Entry is free and there will be a display of military vehicles.
Kelmarsh Country Show is happening on Easter Sunday and Monday. Child tickets £7 and adults £18.