114 Watling Street Road was known as The Beeches orthodontic practice where, for many years, Fiona Smith and Geoff Bradburn treated patients, mainly children. Fiona Smith obtained planning permission to use the premises as an orthodontic practice. The permission was personal to her, i.e.it lapsed when she ceased to practise.
She (and Mr Bradburn) retired and another orthodontic practitioner purchased the premises. He operated the premises as an orthodontic and cosmetic dentistry practice. He did not have planning permission to do so. The history surrounding that and the Council’s conduct will be documented elsewhere. This page just deals with the inaction (and more)of Councillor Stuart Greenhalgh. (Note that “calling in” an application means that it is considered by the planning committee rather than by the officers under their delegated authority.)
WIPCUT wrote to Councillor Greenhalgh on 10 April 2017 (the enclosures have been omitted):-
“I am a resident of the Fulwood Conservation Area and take an interest in applications which affect the Conservation Area.
“114 Watling Street Road was formerly the Beeches orthodontic practice. I attach a printout showing all the planning applications. The current planning application is for a change of use (06/2017/0246). This needs to be considered in conjunction with the earlier application 06/2016/1289, an application which was withdrawn. The reason for the withdrawal can be found in the letter of representation that I submitted dated 20 January, a copy of which I attach.
“In my letter of 20 January (at page 2, penultimate paragraph), I requested that when the correct application was made it should be considered by the planning committee and not dealt with under delegated powers. The correct application is now 06/2017/0246. But the planning department is determined to deal with it under delegated powers.
“In view of the most unsatisfactory way in which the Council has dealt with 02/2016/1289, I would ask you to call in the current application so that the planning committee can deal with it properly, bearing in mind that when it came before the planning committee in 1996, it was stated to be an application which would not normally be allowed.
“In other correspondence (not enclosed), Preston City Council has expressed the view to Cllr Seddon that the grant of a “personal” planning permission is not something which is now done. That apparently is the reason why the planning department proposes to deal with the matter under its delegated powers. With respect, that is not relevant. What is relevant is that the last time that a change of use application came before the planning committee, it was reluctant to grant planning permission. Therefore there should be a full examination of this application.
“I attended the planning committee meeting in March. You were one of the few members of the committee to probe the application for holiday bungalows. I believe that a similar probing needs to be made about 114 Watling Street Road. The current position is that the applicant has been using the premises as an orthodontic practice for more than a year, without planning permission. He has installed upvc windows, without planning permission (and has lost his appeal against the Council’s refusal to retrospectively grantpermission). He has erected signage (one sign is illuminated), without planning permission. And the planning department has committed multiple errors in dealing with the now-withdrawn application, quite apart from the fact that the planning department was willing (up until my intervention) to permit the applicant to avoid payment of the proper application fee.
“If you are agreeable to “calling in” this application, then you may find the additional attached correspondence helpful, this being my letter to Mr Blackburn of 6 February, Mrs Ashcroft’s reply of 14 February, my letter to Mr Blackburn of 16 March and, in relation to the current application, my letter of representation of 10 April.
“Please note that all my correspondence to PCC is responded to by Mrs Ashcroft behind whom the officers hide. PCC has come to regard me as a great nuisance because I expose its failings. I make no apology for that. In fact the Council’s failure to give the legally required public notification of planning applications for many months (until I brought this to its attention), the multiple apologies I have received from PCC, its admitted “oversights”, the computer glitch that went unnoticed for months, my complaint to the LGO that was upheld in part and the cheque Lorraine Norris sent me as a gesture of goodwill, speak for themselves. If this application is allowed to be dealt with by delegated powers then the result will be that the officers will merely be able to sweep under the carpet all that has gone wrong and without there being any proper consideration of the use of this building.”
Councillor Greenhalgh ignored this letter.
So WIPCUT sent an email:-
“I write with reference to my letter to you of 10 April and would be grateful if you would let me know whether you “called in” this application.” (20 April 2017)
Councillor Greenhalgh ignored this email.
WIPCUT attended the planning committee meeting on 5 October 2017. As is usual, there was on the agenda a long list of planning matters that had been dealt with by planning officers. One of the delegated matters (it was listed in the papers which had been provided to committee members before the meeting) was an application relating to 114 Watling Street Road (application number 06/2017/0909). The application was for the removal of six trees from the rear garden.
Committee members have an opportunity to ask the planning officer(s) who attend the meeting questions relating to any application listed. Councillor Greenhalgh asked whether the trees in this application were in the front or rear garden? The officer told him that the trees were in the rear garden.
But Councillor Greenhalgh should have known that as 114 Watling Street Road is in his ward. The list clearly states which ward each planning application relates to. If, before the meeting, he had looked at the papers for applications in his ward he would have known the answer to the question he asked. Clearly, he did not bother to do so.
By chance, at the end of the meeting, WIPCUT spoke to Councillor Greenhalgh, reminding him of the correspondence which he had ignored. He made some notes as if he would now be taking the matter up. But nothing was forthcoming from him, so WIPCUT wrote again on 20 October 2017 (again the enclosures have been omitted. Mr Hindle is the planning enforcement officer):-
“We spoke after the planning meeting earlier this month. I had not intended to speak to you then so I had to rely upon my recollection of this particular property. Having looked at my file again, I am even more irritated by what has gone on than I was when we spoke.
“My letter to you was dated 10 April and I enclosed with it other relevantcorrespondence. You told me you had a vague recollection of my letter. If you want to do something about 114 Watling Street Road but cannot find my letter, then I will let you have a copy and any additional information you ask for. If I do not hear from you, then I will assume that you have my letter.
“As you did not respond to my letter, I sent you an email on 20 April at 21:01:48, an email that you read on 21 April at 14:51 and to which you did not respond.
“If you have my letter and its enclosures, then you will see that I covered some of the matters that I recollected when I spoke to you. But what I had forgotten was that this application had been placed on the planning department’s website without any supporting documentation – i.e. residents were only aware of the fact of the application but none of the detail; that Preston City Council refused to place on the website the standard consultation letter addressed to residents; that Preston City Council failed to affix notifications of the planning application on the street furniture; that Preston City Council failed to place an advertisement in the press, in addition to all the matters I discussed with you and which you accepted were unsatisfactory. In short, if left to its own devices, the planning department would have approved this application without any scrutiny.
“I have also been reminded that at the request of the applicant’s professional representative, the senior planning officer sent the applicant’s representative a copy of my letter of representation. At the time that I submitted my letter of representation, the Council’s website stated that all representations were completely confidential. That was an error. But irrespective of that, I have never, in all my years of looking at planning files, come across a file where, within a few minutes of a request, a senior planning officer has sent to an applicant or the applicant’s representative a copy of a letter of representation. This behaviour is unheard of and smacks of the cosy relationship to which I alluded when we spoke.
“As a result of you not calling in this application (I am fully aware of the need for proper reasons and when you find my letter of 10 April you will see that there were good planning reasons for it to be called in), the Committee lost the opportunity to fulfil its purpose is, which is to scrutinise planning applications.
“The current regime whereby only major applications go before the planning committee and dozens of applications are dealt with under delegated authority means that the Planning Committee’s members should be scrutinising those applications which are being dealt with by delegated authority and reacting to any communications they receive in respect of planning applications. The fact that you had to ask the planning officer whether the work on trees at 114 that was contained in the delegated list concerned trees at the front or at the back demonstrates that this is not being done.
“When we spoke, you told me that one of your constituents told you that he did not perceive there was any value in there being a planning committee. If the members of the Planning Committee are going to sit in silence or accept without question every reply given to them by the planning officers, then your constituent is correct. Planning is arguably the most important function of a local authority because it affects so many people. One only has to compare Preston’s Planning Committee with the highlights one sees on the news of a parliamentary select committee to appreciate the vast difference. The planning officers should be kept on their toes at the planning committee meetings. They should be expected to be able to justify the decisions they have made.
“But at the meeting, there was a meek acceptance of whatever the officer said. The chairman invited the members to ask “technical questions” but few were asked and, as I have said, there was a meek acceptance of the answer.
“I regard (correct me if you think I am mistaken) ward councillors as the equivalent of members of parliament and the Council’s officers as the equivalent of the civil service. It is the ward councillors who should be running the committee, not the council officers, but in my dealings with PCC, particularly since 2014, I have found this not to be the case.
“In relation to 114 Watling Street Road, you agreed with me that the loss of fee income which the senior planning officer had agreed with the applicant’s agent (and which was prevented only by my intervention) was unacceptable. There has of course been a further loss of income in relation to the grotesque advertising sign. The statutory instrument upon which Mr Hindle relies does not grant permission for three signs and Mr Hindle’s stance cannot be reconciled with the planning department’s stance in relation to it as sent to the Planning Inspectorate or indeed the applicant’s own submission (see my letter to Mr Blackburn, senior planning officer, of 10 April 2017 which I enclosed with my letter to you of the same date). Had the applicant applied for planning permission, he would have had to pay a fee. By not bothering and by Mr Hindle’s not bothering to do anything about it, that fee income has been lost.
“I have spent countless hours dealing with PCC. It should not be necessary for me to have to do so. It should not be up to me to “police” the council and your failure to call in this application was an opportunity lost to demonstrate some value that the planning committee could bring to residents. It is hardly surprising that those with a contempt for both planning legislation and the privilege of living in a conservation area, should consistently “try it on” when so few are subject to any effective sanction.”
Councillor Greenhalgh also ignored this letter.
WHAT IS PRESTON COUNCIL UP TO?
Councillor Greenhalgh’s failure to respond, apart from being discourteous, demonstrates a complete lack of interest in a matter which he should have dealt with.
As for the officers, this correspondence gives a hint of what has been going on. WIPCUT will document this on other pages. But of course retrospective planning permission was granted by the officer dealing with the application.