Brush-Off by Wales Planning Inspectorate

Planning lies from the Welsh Government

Well we have the final brush-off by the Welsh Planning Inspectorate (PINS). It appears that they don’t want to hear from us again! Our experience of using the “NON-INDEPENDENT” complaints procedure aimed at the Planning Inspector and PINS has been somewhat as expected. It goes to show that a government body that regulates itself cannot have an independent viewpoint. It is basically a cover-up.

Summary

We regard the whole complaint process as an example of the wishes of the local community being discounted and totally ignored and that the stated policies of the Welsh Government can be casually treated by developers and their advisors to their advantage against the interests of the local community.

We do not intend to write further to PINs as all we will achieve is either no reply or a further attempt to justify the perverseness of the decision. We will now concentrate our efforts to frustrate the development as and when it comes forward with a developer at Planning Reserved Matters. We also intend to make representations to WCBC regarding the inappropriate use of SoCGs that undermine the Committee decisions.

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RFG Commentary on PINs Replies to Our Follow-up & Complaint Letters

Choice of Procedure

It appears that the Welsh Government had not asked for the procedure to be varied from an Oral Hearing to Written Representations but this was the decision of the Inspector. In the original PINs Response, it was stated “they are considered in light of whether what they raise are material considerations in planning decision making or not, and then how relevant the decision maker finds that consideration to be in the particular case before them”.  We can only conclude that our representations on behalf of the whole community of Rossett were not considered relevant.

Contrary to the claim made by the Appellant that he had spoken to a friendly inspector to have the procedure changed PINs advise they “can find no evidence that the appellant or their agent contacted the Inspector directly regarding the choice of procedure. I am satisfied that there was nothing improper in the choice of procedure in this case”.

 The Planning Inspectorate place information on their Portal (ACP) as a gesture to the public. We are advised the Inspector works off a separate system of files from those viewed by the public.

It would appear from the latest comments that little or no weight is given to Interested Party representations, although it is stated “and all representations submitted would have been available to the appointed inspector”. Whether the Inspector actually looked at all or any representations is not clear from the reply.

Accepting Statement of Common Ground

PINs response states “that the Inspector was entitled to rely on the evidence presented to him”. Quite clearly the Statement of Common Ground (SoCG) contributed to the undermining of the decision of the Council Members and the Officers actions in promoting a roadway were in contravention of the provisions of the Manual for Streets, Tan 18 and WCBC Planning Policy GDP1(d). In such an appeal determined by Written Representations, we consider SoCGs should form no part but this happened and cannot be changed.

Emerging Local Development Plan

The lack of an up to date Local Development Plan counted heavily in favour of approval in the recommendation by the Inspector. PINs acknowledge our view that the emerging Local Development Plan (LDP) and the extant Wrexham County Borough Council Unitary Development Plan (WCBC UDP) have been ‘cherry picked’ by the Inspector to justify his decision. PINs advises “that if you consider the Inspectors handling of the weight to attribute to the LDP and UDP is legally flawed you should address the matter in the High Court”.

We think such an action is ill advised because in the unlikely success in the, high cost, High Court the matter would be referred straight back to the decision maker (Welsh Minister) to make the same decision.

It appears to us that the Welsh Government sets out to grant speculative development as a penalty for a Community where a Council has not performed diligently to create a Local Development Plan. In Wrexham case we have been waiting for a new LDP since 2011 and this might happen in 2021 if we are lucky and the Inspectors find in the plan sufficient grounds for it to be approved. Until then more speculative development in Wrexham & Flintshire can be expected as neither Council has an up to date LDP.

5-year Housing Land Supply

PINs advise “where an LPA does not have an adopted LDP, or where an adopted UDP is outside of the plan period as in this case, it will not be able to produce a JHLAS and therefore will not be able to demonstrate a five-year supply of land for housing.”  This JHLAS provision of TAN1 has now been revoked but little help to us.

Although we submitted details before the deadline to the Planning Inspector that WCBC had announced they had a 5-year land bank and referenced LDP Document BP08B detailing this, PINs advise “that it was not incumbent on the Inspector to seek any clarification in regard to Council Document BP08B.  Paragraph 17 of the Inspector’s report is clear: “where an LPA does not have an adopted LDP, or where an adopted UDP is outside of the plan period as in this case, it will not be able to produce a JHLAS and therefore will not be able to demonstrate a five year supply of land for housing.”

As a result, this speculative development was granted because the Council have not got an up to date LDP.

Previous Application

The PINs response on the lack of information on previous Planning History Ref ROS 17649 is totally wrong. The Paragraphs referenced in the Inspector Report (IR62), (IR66) and (IR96) in no way relate to the complete previous planning history of Planning Application ROS17649 which was shown in full in RFG representation documents. This points again to the fact that representations from interested Persons such as RFG receive little or no consideration. In this context no consideration was given and the Inspector confirms this in his report (IR18) “Residential development and the construction of new vehicular and pedestrian access was refused planning permission under LPA Ref: ROS 17649. No further information has been disclosed.”

The Inspectorate’s Handling of Various Planning Issues

It is quite clear from PINs response that “You may not agree with the Inspector, but this does not mean the Inspector arrived at his findings in anything other than a fair and impartial way.  They were conclusions he was entitled to reach using his professional judgment”.

RFG still consider the final decision to recommend granting approval was perverse, bearing in mind the Inspector totally endorsed the Planning grounds on which the Council Members refused the application and does not award costs against the Council but still goes on to allow the appeal.

It is quite clear that RFG will never accept that the handling of the various planning issues was ever done properly to conclude with the decision it did, which we claim was against the weight of evidence submitted.

Validation of the Appeal

PINs reply on this matter is very interesting. When an appeal is lodged Appellants are advised that there is up to 7 weeks required to validate an appeal. The question arises from the PINs response “The requirements needed to make a valid appeal are listed at Article 26 (3) of the DMPO. The substance of an appellant’s grounds of appeal are not a validation requirement “.

The question therefore arises why PINs tell applicants that the grounds of the application must be validated when there is no provision for such in the Town & Country Planning legislation. If the matter is that simple why does the validation process (grounds not required to be demonstrated) take about 7 weeks and what are all the staff doing taking this long. This is just a question for another arena!

Evidence Placed Before the Minister & Inspectors
2 Different Decisions on LDP Soundness

On the PINs response to these issues the silence is deafening.

Failure of Planning Policy Wales

1.30 Managing New Development 

Development management is the positive and proactive approach to shaping, considering, determining and delivering development proposals through the process of deciding planning applications. It is led by the planning authority, working collaboratively with those proposing developments and other stakeholders including the local community. It must be undertaken in the spirit of partnership and inclusiveness (using the five ways of working) and supports the delivery of key priorities and outcomes (contributing to improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being). 

Planning lies from the Welsh Government

Lesley Griffiths – Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs
Also MS for Wrexham – You couldn’t make it up!

Welsh First Ministers Response to Rossett Community

Introduction

In a previous post we set out our complaints to the relevant Welsh authorities. We had been directed towards these channels by the official complaint procedures on the Welsh Government website. It would appear from our experience that these channels are just methods for what you would call an initial “brush off” or as we see it “let’s sweep it under the carpet and they will go away”. Further details of the complaints can be read here:

We have already responded back to the complaint brush off by the planning Inspectorate (PINS) with a further detailed request to respond in earnest. We await their response.

The complaint against Julie James AM, The Minister of Housing and Local Government, according to protocol, had to be sent to the FM Mark Drakeford. Our complaint consisted of 11 pages clearly explaining the case, together with 13 pages of 3 appendices that had been referred to in the complaint. In addition we sent a further 10 appendices (250+ pages) of supporting information.

Response from First Minister

Considering the amount of evidence and information laid before the Mr Drakeford we were expecting a detailed rebuffal of our claims. What we actually received is shown below.

Apart from the fact he can’t spell received our evidence has obviously not been given any consideration, thus making the complaint procedure a farce.

RFG Response Back to Mark Drakeford FM

Today (3 June 2020) we sent our response back to Mr Drakeford…………..

Dear Mr Drakeford,

Complaint against the Minister of Housing & Local Government

Your response to our complaint against the breach by the Minister for Housing and Local Government Julie James of the Ministerial Code of Conduct is acknowledged. It does not however address the Complaints we have made. While we accept that the Ministerial Code relates to personal standards and behaviour you have taken no notice of the fact that in the Senedd on the 29th January 2020 she proclaimed her support for the Wrexham LDP and the number of houses allocated in the LDP stating were about right. She then goes on to make a decision on one of those sites on the 14th February 2020 on the spurious grounds that as the Local Authority do not have an adopted LDP they are deemed not to have a 5-year land Bank under TAN1 JHLAS. In the Welsh Minister Decision letter there are no less than 20 references to the emerging LDP so it is clear that her earlier reference to the support of the Wrexham Deposit LDP placed her in conflict with Paragraphs 3 & 4 of Propriety Issues in Relation to The Ministerial Decision Making on Planning Appeal and Called in Applications (Disclosure Document List 002). As her Officers were present at the housing numbers hearings, she knew that they had a 5-year land bank as at 3rd September 2019 long before the decision was made on the 14th February 2020. This we would aver is in breach of section 1.3 and in particular the Seven Principles of Public life notably Objectivity and Accountability of the Ministerial Code.

We are advised that the only documents she had before her when that decision was made was the Inspectors Report a couple of copies of the draft decision for her to sign and a couple of procedural documents hardly the best evidence (section 1.3 and Objectivity) and we have seen nothing to suggest her department were any better informed. If the decision is being made by the Welsh Ministers, surely, they should be aware of all the arguments not just rely upon the report of the PINs Inspector without question.

Because of the size of the site, this was an application which had to be placed before the Welsh Ministers for decision therefore Collective responsibility comes into account here including your own. (1.3 (v)).

Your comment that she had acted at all times properly on the basis of the professional advice that she had received, does not assist her. The Ministerial Code makes Ministers responsible for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments and agencies (1.3 (i)). This Ministerial responsibility for the decision is clearly set out in Paragraphs 11 and 12 of the Notes on the Processing of a Planning Appeal/Application following the submission of Inspectors Report to the Welsh Government Planning Division (Document release Item 001e). In this case she has breached Paragraphs 3.54 and 3.55, 3.69 to 3.71 and 6.3.11 of PPW10 and a host of provisions in the Wrexham UDP which remains the adopted Development Plan for Wrexham at this point in time. 

The PINs recommendation was made on the 14th November 2019 and the Ministers decision on 14th February 2020 and these decisions were made nearly 7 months and 4 months ago respectively and Wrexham Council have been given until 31st August 2020 to try to make the Plan sound on Gypsy and Travellers. The EiP Inspectors have not even indicated their wishes yet on housing or housing numbers. So at the time this speculative development was approved this site was outside the settlement boundary, in a green barrier, in a Special Land Scape Area, on BMV land, (southern site 100% grade 2 and 3a Northern site grade 2 and 3b) where this whole Community says the site floods and the doctors and schools cannot cope. The Minister also approved “improvements” to the pavement of an approach road which cannot be shown to be safe or to comply with the Manual for Streets. The decision was the Minister’s decision for which she must accept full responsibility. In other words, the “buck stops with her” or with the Collective responsibility of the whole Cabinet.

Therefore, to ignore the complaint we have made and to summarily dismiss the same without due consideration makes the complaints procedure somewhat farcical. Your endorsement of the Welsh Minister’s action has created precedents that clearly place the whole of PPW10 and Tan 6 in jeopardy and the Well-being of Future Generations is meaningless.

We await your further response in due course on these key issues of protocol and procedure.

Yours Sincerely

On behalf of Rossett Focus Group

We await a more appropriate response from the First Minister of Wales.