Fringe Box



Letter: Ransom Strip Decision Should Not Have Been Attempted By a Council Officer

Published on: 20 Mar, 2024
Updated on: 20 Mar, 2024

From: Bernard Quoroll

former local authority CEO and former Independent Person at GBC

In response to: Council Director’s Decision on Sale of ‘Ransom Strip’ Called in by Councillors

It sounds like the powers delegated to officers might also usefully be reviewed, as well as financial standing orders and procurement rules, which were acknowledged not to be fit for purpose during the Section 114 debacle.

Ransom strips typically can be worth up to a third of development value released and sale of them can often be controversial, especially when doing so creates an opportunity for significant development to take place unexpectedly.

Officers who have decision making powers delegated to them are not obliged to use them in potentially controversial cases. They can (and should) refer such decisions to elected members, who are more likely to be aware of local sensitivities. Not doing so can damage a council’s reputation for transparency and therefore trust more generally.

On the face of it, the decision in this case should not have been attempted by an officer, the more so because selling an interest in land which might enable development to take place in conflict with a council’s wider planning objectives could easily become an “own goal” and one which the council might later come to regret.

Share This Post

Responses to Letter: Ransom Strip Decision Should Not Have Been Attempted By a Council Officer

  1. George Potter Reply

    March 20, 2024 at 10:11 pm

    The decision in this case was discussed with the lead councillor portfolio holder (and the entire Executive) before it was made, in addition to the chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committe. The relevant ward councillors were also consulted before the decision was made.

    George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

    • John Ferns Reply

      March 21, 2024 at 11:58 pm

      Just because the issue has gone through “the process” does not automatically mean the right decision has been made.

      I recall the missed opportunity of the 3 ward councillors & their failure to make any representation, effectively condoning the 1 Onslow Street three-storey height extension.

      The resulting furore and political point-scoring associated with the adjacent North Street development was frankly distasteful and has set the tone for all that has been going wrong within Millmead since.

  2. Bernard Quoroll Reply

    March 22, 2024 at 5:38 am

    Councillor Potter appears not to have understood the point I was making. Delegated powers are granted to officers to enable them to deal with routine matters which are capable of being decided within established policies.

    The Dragon’s report clearly demonstrates why a decision to sell a ransom strip in current circumstances was always likely to be controversial. The fact that an officer can take a decision under delegated powers does not mean that they should, however well intentioned they may be.

    Elected members who are internally consulted as part of this process are equally obligated to exercise judgement about whether to agree to the use of a fast track procedure in favour of one which requires a public report to a committee. The fact that the entire Executive was consulted demonstrates that this was not a routine matter.

    Failing to exercise judgement in circumstances like this undermines the logic of giving delegated powers both to officers and portfolio holders, looks stealthy and can damage public trust and confidence. Having a call-in power is an important safeguard to prevent mistakes being made but is not a substitute for exercising judgement by those entrusted with the management of public assets, however keen they might be to “get things done”.

    Bernard Quoroll is a former local authority CEO and a former Independent Person at GBC.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *