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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Government Spokesman Confirms Kirkby Rumours Are Nonsense

In recent weeks wild rumours surrounding the impending approval of the Tesco / Everton planning application, fuelled primarily by an article from a previously respected journalist, have circulated amongst concerned Evertonians, and others, in the local population. In a bid for some clarity on this matter an associate of KEIOC contacted James Henderson at the Department of Communities and Local Government, he asked:

“My concern here surrounds the blatant promotion in the press of a 'positive Inspectors report' by a 'well connected' journalist quoting 'well-placed sources.' I find it difficult to comprehend, given the controversy surrounding this proposal, that this article can go unanswered while the reputation of not only your department but no doubt more importantly that of the planning Inspector has been both locally and regionally brought into question.

Notwithstanding the implications a breach of protocol could produce, I would very much appreciate not only your opinion of the article but an assurance on behalf of your department that all of your departments employees are fully aware of regulation 12(4)(e) of the Environmental Information Regulations (concerning the disclosure of internal communication).”

Mr Henderson replied:

“You will appreciate that this Department is not obliged to respond to comments made in the press. However, I can confirm that no information has been disclosed to third parties about the details of this case, as contained in the Inspector's Report which the Secretary of State is considering along with all other evidence submitted.”

Hopefully this response, straight from the horses mouth as it were, will expose rumours surrounding the determination of the planning application for what they are. KEIOC asks all Evertonians not to lose sight of what the inquiry was for; it was to examine a planning application that failed to comply with local, regional and national planning regulations; an application opposed by all surrounding authorities, all of whom had development plans that conformed to the previously mentioned planning regulations and an inquiry which resulted in the refusal of the applicants to fully substantiate their financial plans nor deliver a coherent transport plan.

The premise of the communication with the Department of Local Government and Communities was based on the Governments own guidelines which are reproduced below:

Planning Inspectors' Reports

Requests for the release of the report of a Planning Inspector (before the Secretary of State has made a decision) should be refused under regulation 12(4)(e) of the Environmental Information Regulations (concerning the disclosure of internal communication).

Following a planning inquiry, the Planning Inspector prepares a report for the Secretary of State in which he or she sets out the evidence presented at the inquiry, their conclusions on the main issues and makes a recommendation to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State considers their recommendation, which he or she may choose to accept or reject. Until the Secretary of State has made a decision, the report forms part of internal advice.

Once the decision has been taken, the main parties to the application receive a copy of the Inspector's report with the decision letter and other parties may request a copy. Thereafter, so far as the Town and Country Planning Act regime is concerned, a challenge to a decision can be made within 6 weeks by way of an appeal to the High Court under Section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

The Inspector's report is intended for public release following a decision by the Secretary of State and there is no compelling public interest in the early release of this information given that it is invariably disclosed at a future date.

It is in the public interest to have an efficient and transparent planning system, which is fair to all. If the conclusions and recommendations of the Planning Inspector are released before the Secretary of State has made a decision, there is a risk that this will undermine the efficiency, transparency and impartiality of the planning process, and delay the decision-making process. Individuals might well make further representations on the basis of the reports content that, in the interests of fairness, the Secretary of State might then have to consider and possibly circulate to other interested parties to the inquiry so that they had an opportunity to respond. This might lead to a re-opening of the public Inquiry and a further Inspector's report, making it difficult to bring a case to a close. The existing system balances the need to facilitate public debate and participation in planning decisions against the public interest in an efficient and effective planning system where plans and decisions are made within reasonable timescales.

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