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Letter: GBC Fails to Observe Its Own Proclaimed Standards

Published on: 24 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 24 Jun, 2021

From: Ben Paton

In response to: The Dragon Says: Wisley Garden Village Bid Investigation – Where is the Accountability?

Guildford Borough Council consistently fails to live up to the standards it proclaims.

The Daniel Morgan Murder Investigation Panel stated last week: “We believe that concealing or denying failings, for the sake of an organisation’s public image is dishonesty on the part of the organisation for reputational benefit, and constitutes a form of institutional corruption.

“We recommend the creation of a statutory duty of candour, to be owed by all law enforcement agencies to those whom they serve, subject to protection of national security and relevant data protection legislation.”

GBC is also guilty of a form of institutional corruption.

The council’s own Probity in Planning Code restates some of the Nolan principles:

  • Integrity. Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that try inappropriately to influence them in their work.
  • Accountability. Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
  • Openness. Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
  • Honesty. Holders of public office should be truthful.
  • Leadership. Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour.

And in other sections of the same code is stated:

“16.2 Councillors will only be involved (primarily for fact-finding) in pre-application discussions on major schemes when a specific forum has been arranged by officers for that purpose.
16.3 In complex or contentious cases, at least one planning officer will be present.
16.4 A meeting note will be taken by planning officers and placed on the relevant file. Some pre-application discussions are undertaken on a confidential basis and these will be placed in a confidential envelope on the appropriate file. These will normally be made public once an application has been received.
16.5 On larger schemes it is possible the proposal will be the subject of a Design Review Panel. The local ward councillors would be invited to attend that review.

“Similar issues apply to the development of planning policy. There may be occasions where owners, developers or other interested parties will wish to discuss with councillors aspects of emerging policy in the development plan and other policy documents. This may be as promoters of a particular development or objectors to specific proposals. In such circumstances, councillors should always:

  • avoid as far as possible meeting a promoter of a development alone;
  • avoid making it known in advance of the Committee or similar meeting whether they support or oppose the proposal;
  • restrict advice to procedures only;
  • direct objectors or promoters of schemes to the planning officers so that they can be included in the appropriate report;
  • make a note of any relevant meeting and copy to the planning officer(s).

16.8 Councillors should make a note of any formal meetings with an applicant or any other interested party, whom if possible a councillor should avoid meeting alone, which will be publicly available on the planning file and inform those present that this will be done.”

Redacted email re Wisley Garden Village Bid meeting

The uncovered email (above) shows Cllr Paul Spooner met with the site promoters but the investigator found no minutes of the meeting. Surely this was in clear breach of the letter and the spirit of the rules.

Does the council care?

It seems not; it treats the Probity in Planning Code as just window dressing, a respectable facade. There’s no evidence that councillors involved in these decisions have felt bound by it or that the council has ever had any interest in holding them accountable.

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