Letter to District Auditor Questioning Council’s Use of Public Money

The following letter has been sent to the District Auditor officially questioning the council’s use of public money:

Dear Mr McDonagh,

 

This representation is made by the ‘Save Newport Campaign’ Group (SNC) regarding decisions and actions of Telford & Wrekin Council (T&WC)

 

SNC believes that T&WC has acted ultra vires (illegally, irrationally, contrary to policy, and outside of proper procedures) in matters pertaining to a series of planning issues that include, but are not limited to, 4 major planning applications for retail development, related planning appeal inquiries, court & high court applications & hearings, decision process for appropriation of land for development purposes, a Village Green application and subsequent VG public inquiry.

 

SNC contend that in promoting a particular planning application as a preferred location for a superstore the local planning authority (LPA) has developed lines of reasoning that it believes to be so contrived as to be perverse. The Council / LPA have expended significant amounts of council tax-payers money seeking legal advice and representation, employing specialist consultants, and in officer time pursuing what SNC believe to be irrational line(s) of reasoning.

 

In respect of planning application TWC/2011/0916 the council owns a significant proportion of this ‘greenfield’ site proposed for development and stands to gain a capital receipt in the order of £21m. A significant portion of the land is used by the local community for informal leisure / recreational use. This land is identified as open land in the current approved planning policy documents and has never been allocated for development. The land was not allocated for development purposes at the time of the plans board decision to grant planning permission. An application has been made to have the land designated as a Village Green. A government appointed planning inspector issued directions for a VG hearing before T&WC commenced procedures to appropriate the land. The outcome of a public inquiry into the Village Green application is awaited. The Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government decided to call-in the planning application (TWC/2011/0916) prior to T&WC commencing procedures to appropriate the land and therefore well before a formal decision by the leader of the Council to appropriate the land.

 

SNC asks the auditor to investigate fully the way in which the Council / LPA have dealt with the above matters especially in light of subsequent decisions made by independently appointed planning inspectors, and also those that have been made, or will in due course be made, by the courts. SNC advises that each time one of the independent ‘checks & balances’ has been applied T&WC decisions have been reversed and yet they continue to pursue matter(s) to the next level and on to the high court. To date each independent review has found against T&WC.

 

SNC acknowledges that a number of the proceedings are still active however early engagement of the auditor will help you better understand both the complexity and scale of what we contend are misdemeanours of a scale and significance that make them of public interest.

 

Whilst SNC is aware of the ‘general powers of competence’ (PoC) provisions proposed in the 2011 Act the actions of T&WC that are of concern to us go across a timescale prior to and post the proposed PoC, and do not arise simply from abuse of that power.

 

When taken individually and / or as a whole SNC believes that T&WC has acted inappropriately in the way that it has promoted and / or opposed a series of retail development proposals. The council has incurred significant costs, believed to be in the order of £1m, to the local taxpayer in terms of obtaining external legal and other expert advice / representation and for external reports. It is understood that a significant proportion of these costs have been incurred in respect of advice and presentations at the council’s plans board briefings & meetings, briefings & representations at planning and other public inquiries, and for preparation for and representation in the courts.

 

No estimate is available for officer time spent developing and supporting the council’s apparently irrational line of reasoning in these matters although it is likely to be significant and possibly of a similar order to that incurred in external costs.

 

These matters are too complex to set out in detail in simple letter form – in order to fully understand and assess the significance of this representation the issues need to be thoroughly investigated by suitably qualified persons.

 

Areas of particular concern to SNC are:-

 

The extent to which the Council as a LPA has adhered to (or departed from) approved national and local planning policy;

The basis upon which the Council / LPA intends to challenge in the high court a government appointed planning inspector’s decision to grant planning consent for a food-store at Audley Avenue (Ref: planning application TWC/2011/0632) – especially in light of the LPA’s failure to determine the application within the prescribed period in the first place;

The basis upon which the Council / LPA intends to challenge in the high court a decision made by a government appointed planning inspector to grant a certificate of lawful use at Mere Park (A1 use class);

The extent to which expenditure has been, or is still to be, incurred in seeking expert legal and other technical advice, legal and other professional representation (at officer & member briefings, plans board meetings, public inquiries, etc), provision of verbal or written reports, etc in respect of planning applications and related matters as detailed on the attached schedule;

Terms on which external advice has been sought i.e. was the advice sought truly independent and impartial, or were questions posed in a way to solicit particular responses that suited the council’s requirements;

Whether appropriate approvals were in place in advance of expenditure being incurred for external legal and technical advice relating to all matters as detailed on the attached schedule;

Whether appropriate advice was given (or not given) by the Monitoring Officer (Section 5 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989), and the Section 151 officer (of the Local Government Act 1972) in relation to the planning matters and in setting the Council’s budget strategy and its annual budget;

Appropriateness of advice and guidance provided to elected members by the Council’s chief officers / heads of service responsible for commercial development, planning policy, and planning operations;

Completeness of information in all cases provided by officers (other than those referred to above) to assist Elected Members in their decision making;

The extent to which Elected Members have paid due regard to advice provided to them by their officers and their external advisors.

 

We confirm that representatives of SNC would welcome an opportunity to meet with the auditor and / or your appointed investigator(s) to explain in greater detail issues of concern, and to provide evidence in support of our claim that T&WC has acted ultra vires.

 

As is required by your policy and procedures a copy of this letter has been sent to Mr Richard Partington, Managing Director, Borough of Telford & Wrekin.

 

Yours sincerely

 

David Parker Cllr Adrian Meredith Patrick Beech

Chairman Newport Town council Chairman

Newport Regeneration Newport Chamber

Partnership of Commerce

 

 

Save Newport Campaign

 

Ref: Borough of Telford & Wrekin

 

Schedule

 

Contents of the following schedule are grouped together for ease of reference only.

The inter-relationship and precise timing of sub-elements of the process and procedures for making decisions in respect of these matters is central to the representation now made by SNC and to an ‘independent’ review of decisions and actions taken by T&WC.

 

Planning Application KS/W2009/1023(dated 09/07/09) – land at Mere Park, A41 / Stafford Road, Newport, Shropshire TF10 9BP

 

Planning Appeal Ref: APP/C3240/A/10/2125557 (decision dated 22/09/12) – land at Mere Park, A41 / Stafford Road, Newport, Shropshire TF10 9BP

 

Planning Application TWC/2011/0632 (dated 11/07/12) – land at Audley Avenue, Newport, Shropshire TF10 7BX

 

Planning Appeal Ref: APP/C3240/A/11/2167505 (decision dated 02/08/12) – land at Audley Avenue, Newport, Shropshire TF10 7BX

 

Appeal by T&WC to the High Court (Ref: Audley Avenue planning appeal decision) – announcement of hearing date awaited

 

Planning Appeal Ref: APP/C3240/X/11/2164340 (Ref: certificate of lawful use in respect of the garden centre at Mere Park)

 

Appeal by T&WC to the High Court (Ref: decision to grant a certificate of lawful use to garden centre at Mere Park) – hearing date scheduled for 14th December 2012

 

Planning Application TWC/2011/0871 (dated 20/10/11) outline application for development of a superstore, 350 dwellings, 80 extra-care facility and 4.5 hectares of employment use land on land to the east and west of Station Road, Newport, Shropshire – Application not yet determined by the LPA

 

Planning Application TWC/2011/0916 (dated 27/10/11) full application for development of a superstore, petrol filling station, car parking, access and ancillary development on land to the west of Station Road, Newport, Shropshire

 

T&WC Plans Board decision to approve TWC/2011/0916 made on 25/04/12

 

Secretary of State letter dated 15/06/12 announces decision to ‘call-in’ TWC/2011/0916 and other major retail & housing applications affecting Newport

continued

Planning Appeal (SoS call-in) Ref: APP/C3240/V/12/2178683 – proposed development of a superstore etc on land to the west of Station Road, Newport, Shropshire – scheduled to commence on 29 January 2013

 

T&WC Plans Board to consider a further report on TWC/2011/ 0916 at their meeting on 29/11/12

 

Application (Ref: EH/00847) made in correspondence dated Nov / Dec 2011 from a resident of Newport (Mr John Rudd) to have land to the west of Station Road, Newport, Shropshire designated a village green

 

PINS appointed inspector issues directions for a village green inquiry on 17/07/12

 

Public inquiry held between 22/10/12 and 29/10/12 into an application made to have land to the west of Station Road, Newport, Shropshire designated as a village green – report and decision awaited

 

Public notices (dated 10/08/12) – details in respect of proposed appropriation of land under provisions of the Local Government Act 1972 at Station Road, Newport, Shropshire

 

Decision of the Leader of the Council (T&WC) to designate land to the west of Station Road, Newport, Shropshire understood to have been made at a Cabinet meeting held on 20/09/12 under urgent / emergency business procedures

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