The Plastic Hippo

April 8, 2013

Walsall Q and A

Filed under: Law,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 12:20 am
Do pay attention, Bond

Do pay attention, Bond

The whole point of a Secret Service is that it should remain secret in exactly the same way that a Public Service should remain public.

In Walsall, however, expedience decrees that open and accountable local government must, for the good of its beneficiaries, draw a discreet veil over some of the more “sensitive” issues that require our busy councillors to devote so much time and energy to resolve. Tonight (Monday), the next episode of the long-running hilarious Sitcom “Full Meeting of Walsall Council” is certain to be the funniest yet. The plot involves some dubious developers, tenacious local citizens, unlawful annexation of public green space, council maladministration causing injustice and the rather sinister behaviour of a mysterious Councillor Q.

Item 13 on a packed agenda is an innocuous little number entitled “Local Ombudsman report”. Coming after the riveting Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) 2001 discussion and before the sensational Community Engagement and Voluntary Sector Portfolio Report, the Ombudsman report is just a pause for breath in between the real comedy. It concerns itself with some piffling little matter of maladministration and the recommendation that certain councillors on the Planning Committee should be disallowed from taking certain planning decisions. So, who is the mysterious Councillor Q?

The mysterious Councillor Q supported a planning application for “re-roofing and repair” to an existing business somewhere in Walsall in August 2010. What he forgot to mention was his “acquaintance” with the developer. When it turned out that what was effectively a new building was constructed which expanded onto a public green space, Councillor Q opposed any enforcement action against the developer not once, but twice. When some local people objected, Councillor Q suggested that one of the complainants was undertaking commercial activities without approval at their own neighbouring property. This proved to be completely untrue. Undeterred, the people who complained took their case to the Local Government Ombudsman. Hence the publication of the irrelevant and inconsequential report that is merely a waste of valuable council time.

The council papers that accompany the report play down the role of Councillor Q and, indeed, the roles of Councillor X and Councillor V and reminds elected member not to name names or identify the property. The briefing and the report makes for interesting reading. The Ombudsman judgement is at the bottom. It seems strange that the report names the innocent complainants but refuses to name the guilty councillors. It would seem that the Planning Committee requires secrecy in order to place the interests of business “acquaintances” above the amenity of constituents and council tax-payers. This maladministration and improper use of planning influence is, of course, an isolated and unfortunate mistake by an elected member and is in no way related to the fate of the Mellish Road Church, Tesco, Shannon’s Mill, Jebez Clift, BOAK or the ridiculous and unfounded allegations of a man who extended his house screaming “My cousin`s on the Planning Committee, I can build what I like” at his neighbours in the street. Thank goodness Eric Pickles is relaxing local authority planning regulations.

The Ombudsman, or woman in this case, Dr Jane Martin concluded her report in paragraph 109 by stating:
“To remedy the injustice the Council has:
a) taken the enforcement action described above to ensure the public open space is restored to an acceptable condition;
b) reminded the developer of the need to submit a fresh planning application for the proposed use of the building on the site.
In addition it has agreed to:
c) apologise to (the complainants) for their injustice;
d) pay financial compensation of £1,500 each;
e) consider whether Councillors Q, V and X should take part in any decision making for any application for use of the building on site; in order to restore (the complainants) confidence in the planning committee’s decision making.
110. I have asked the Council to confirm to me within two months of the date of this report that these remaining actions have been completed.”

So who is the mysterious Councillor Q? Merely for information, here is a link to the minutes of the Planning Committee Meeting that took place in August 2010. Pages 10 and 11 are particularly interesting. Fast forwarding to the March 29 2012 Planning Committee Meeting, pages three and four are most illuminating.
If a council is asked to consider whether certain councillors are fit to take part in planning decisions, then their positions on a Planning Committee must surely be untenable. The electorate may decide that these councillors are not actually fit to be councillors.

More sensibly, perhaps a little bird will have a quiet word in Commander Bond`s ear and encourage him to take Councillor Q for a spin in the Aston Dr Jane Martin. A casual flip of the top of the gear stick and a press of the ejector seat button will avoid a futile question and answer session in the council chamber.

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12 Comments »

  1. Another top post that strikes at the very heart of the potential for Councillor corruption and Officer weakness.

    Apart from casting doubt on crucial matters of integrity and openess, this affair regrettably demonstrates that professional and political leadership in this Borough is bankrupt of ideals, principles and morality

    Officers, as well as Councillors, are culpable here. By allowing themselves to be influenced and bullied into doing such a shoddy professional job in the first place, they have achieved the almost impossible by pouring further ordure onto the Councils already appalling planning reputation.

    This is final confirmation that the Council is a planning wasteland to be picked over by development vultures. These creature prey on spineless Councils that have no idea of strategy and how to apply it, little grasp of probity and the behaviour required of it and no real interest in solving the problem of ‘bad neighbour’ businesses by moving them to more suitable brownfield sites that will lie unattended until Nod breaks his chains.

    I have real fears for the present local planning system. Although an opportunity for NIMBYism, it provides one of a dwindling number of opportunities for residents to express their view on things that matter to them.

    Unless elected Members can resist the temptation to line their own pockets or do a mate a favour, and Officers maintain a level of professional integrity some of the most powerful national laws capable of influence by local people will be fully sequestered by central government, with no right of appeal.

    Then the real bad apples come into the game.

    Ooops – already done for large infrastructure projects!

    The Realist

    ps if anyone out there is unsure of the identity of Councillor Q, just ‘tweet’

    Comment by The Realist — April 9, 2013 @ 12:16 pm | Reply

  2. Reblogged this on Getting There.

    Comment by Aiden McHaffie — April 9, 2013 @ 8:26 pm | Reply

  3. Interesting blog; but it comes three weeks after the Ombudsman’s report was published. Councillors on the development committee should make their decisions purely on planning law and the advice of officers; even in small scale developments such as this. Above all, when planning is such a political contentious issue.
    The planning process in Walsall has a transparency record second only to that of a brick wall. This isn’t enhanced by the watchdog of the local authority withholding the identities of the councillors who were found to be at fault and only referring to them by using initials in the style of cheap novels. Neither is it improved by the fact that even the complainants’ real names have not been used.
    Nor is it helped by bloggers complaining of the silly game of spooks and whistle blowers, from behind veils of fictitious names. You end up with less credibility than those you complain of and therefore can be as easily dismissed as those who believe the world is run by aliens from Mars.

    If you want the system to be open and honest, set an example by using your real names!

    Comment by Hannah — April 10, 2013 @ 10:47 am | Reply

  4. Councillor Q, Is it a XXXX, is it a plane, no it certainly isn’t Superman!!!!

    Comment by Phil Brown — April 16, 2013 @ 6:06 pm | Reply

  5. Gets even better. (Name A withheld by the plastic hippo) , one of the Planning officers responsible for the maladministration through his actions, or at least total lack of action, has now requested an internal review which (Name B withheld by the plastic hippo) is setting up. I cannot see this being of much use as will any names be named or disciplinary action follow as (Name A) has told Phil Brown that Walsall Council does not engage in public discussion of employment related matters. We don’t want to discuss them we just want to know, who were the bad apples and what action is or has been taken against them. As (Name A) is one I would suggest the answer is no action let us just carry on regardless. I think we could say that Walsall Council is once again going through the motions. Roll on May 2014, let us get rid of the current Councillors, from top to bottom and elect an effective local Council.

    Comment by The Twitcher — May 3, 2013 @ 6:19 pm | Reply

  6. This is very worrying. If it carries on in the same vein, we will need a longer alphabet.

    Alternatively, the Council could decide to name those concerned, launch a credible enquiry and deal properly and publically with the matter.

    On reflection, I think that a longer alphabet is the more likely option, particularly as the Council will now have to suffer another kicking from the Ombudsman over the ludicrous decision to buy the Old Square.

    The Realist

    Comment by The Realist — May 9, 2013 @ 9:46 am | Reply

  7. Panic not fair people of Walsall. Democracy is in safe hands even though the Electoral Commission is to set up watching brief on Walsall. Our highly respected Leader Michael J Bird on the topic of Voting Fraud has stated, and I quote from tonight’s E&S, “As far as I am concerned there’s no room for those kind of antics”, and “Voting is a democratic process and anyone who interferes with it deserves to feel the full force of the law”.

    Comment by The Twitcher — May 14, 2013 @ 5:40 pm | Reply

    • Good comment Twitcher.
      I had similar thoughts when I read these comments. Unfortunately we will never be able to actually publish our thoughts in this ‘democracy’

      Comment by Phil Brown — May 15, 2013 @ 9:20 am | Reply

  8. With reference to this development the developer has now told Walsall Planning and Building Control Officers that he is going to continue with his development regardless of the fact that he does not have any planning permission. What plans is he working to? Don’t the planning officers have any powers to tell him to stop developing? Would a developer continue to spend money on a development for which he has yet to apply for permission unless of course he is pretty confident that he will get permission despite Planning Officers, the Ombudsman, Legal Counsel, residents, Uncle Tom Cobley, but not quite all, stating that it does not comply with Urban Planning and is totally out of place in a residential area. Does this developer know something we do not know , or should that be somebody rather than something?

    Comment by Phil Brown — May 17, 2013 @ 9:17 am | Reply

  9. A question for Walsall Council. Who is actually running this development, and has been for five years. Looks to be the developer as Walsall Council seem to just do as he wishes all the while, do not they have any authority in this case. Is the developer that powerful or just the Council so weak

    Comment by The Twitcher — May 17, 2013 @ 1:00 pm | Reply

  10. Of course Planners have the power to stop development. However, the will seems to be lacking.

    The issuing of a Section 99 Notice might be a start. The site can also be seized and secured by the Council.

    The Realist

    Comment by The Realist — May 23, 2013 @ 11:01 am | Reply

    • Unfortunately the Council are unwilling to take any such action. That is why the s106 was signed which is another form of planning consent. Since this farce started in 2008 the Council through the Leader, other Tory Councillors and Planning offices have appeared to be acting on behalf of the developer rather than local residents. The Ombudsman may have found 11 cases of maladministration leading to injustice but as they all feed from the same trough all they can do is slap wrists and go away leaving the field clear for the developer to just carry on regardless. Anyone know where we can purchase some chocolate teapots as we do feel that Council personnel and the Ombudsman deserve to be presented with one.each. Anyone who takes the time to read the files at the Council regarding this planning application will realise when conditions that would cost the developer money are deleted, noise surveys not conducted because that would also cost the developer that this developer must have an excellent contact within the Council hierarchy unless of course Walsall Council deal with all planning applications in a similar manner. It would be interesting to find out. Does anyone have other cases to report.

      Comment by Phil Brown — May 23, 2013 @ 11:49 am | Reply


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