Following the disturbing news earlier this year that many Lichfield District Councillors have reading difficulties, it has emerged this week that councillors on the LDC Planning Committee have been forced to go on a training course entitled ‘How to Avoid Making Indefensible Decisions’.
With barely-concealed disdain, officers have produced a Briefing Paper to be considered at the meeting of the Planning Committee this evening (Monday 13 October). This informs Council members of the costs associated with an appeal against their refusal of planning for 6 poultry units at Cleat Hill Farm, Syerscore Lane, Haunton (Ref 11/01074/FULMEI).
The refusal by the Planning Committee on 13 March 2013, contrary to the professional planning officer’s detailed and reasoned recommendation, resulted in a 4-day Public Enquiry in December 2013.
Planning Inspector Martin Whitehead LL.B BSc(Hons) CEng MICE commented:
‘As you can see from my list of qualifications I am very intelligent; I’ve tried to be as understanding as possible, but it’s very difficult to be anything less than patronising with local authority planning committees when they are populated by more egos than brains.’
Not only did the Inspector allow the appeal but, in a subsequent hearing, he also awarded costs against the Lichfield council tax payers. Inspector Whitehead commented:
‘I found that the Council’s reasons for refusal were not unreasonable, given the high threshold of incompetence that we must apply to locally-elected idiots, but the applicant has incurred expense in providing unnecessary expert evidence on appeal regarding the impact of flies, chicken shit and traffic’
The total amount of the award for costs to be paid by Lichfield council tax payers has now been settled at £15,228.71. In addition the council tax payers have had to pay the Council’s own costs in defending the appeal conservatively estimated to be a further £17,200.
Taking time out from prosecuting single parents who fiddle their housing benefits to feed their children and from seeking to recover £50,000 sent in error to a local mum, Cabinet Member for Finance Councillor Christopher Spruce said:
‘These costs add significant additional pressure on budgets and resources that were unforeseen, well they were unforeseen by us anyway. Going forward I expect that no further errors will be made once all the members have completed their “How to Avoid Making Indefensible Decisions” training.’
Whilst delighted to have his original judgement vindicated by the appeal, the local planning officer who made the recommendation has concerns for the future. The officer, who did not wish to be named, said:
‘The costs of the appeal amount to some £32,000. These costs have to be found from somewhere. Coincidentally my salary is £32,000.’
Council chairman David “S” Smith also commented:
‘The costs of the appeal amount to some £32,000. These costs have to be found from somewhere. Coincidentally my luxury chauffeur-driven BMW cost £32,000.’
In other cost saving moves, the Council has decided to drop objections to HS2 and will not be sending members to the hearing of the Parliamentary Select Committee this week. The Council also has no intention of being represented by Cabinet Members at this week’s Local Plan hearings. Council Leader Mike Wilcox commented:
‘This demonstrates the Council’s commitment to costs savings, the less we do the more you save. “To Me to You” so to speak.
‘And anyway I hear that the developers barristers have given us a right good mauling, why would I want to put myself up for that?’