Report into £3,000 Islington Council planning allowances was ‘whitewash’
PUBLISHED: 15:32 28 November 2013 | UPDATED: 15:32 28 November 2013
Councillors are now ‘less likely to oppose applications’
A policy of paying councillors an extra £3,000 a year to decide which new buildings get the green light has been called into question by the man who spent two years writing a report on the practice.
Despite not mentioning it in their pre-election pledge, Islington Council’s ruling Labour group overhauled the borough’s planning rules when they came into power in 2010 – including the extra allowances and abolishing local area planning committees.
Cllr Greg Foxsmith, then chairman of the scrutiny committee which examines how the town hall operates, launched a report to find out if people were happy with the changes. Last week the report was finally signed off – and he describes it as a “whitewash”.
He said: “I wanted to be fair, but I wanted to find out if people who actually use the planning service – i.e. residents – thought it was working well. I felt frustrated at every turn.
Committee members Cllr Paul Convery and Cllr Martin Klute gave evidence, but of course they said everything was great because they are Labour.
“But I wanted to interview members of the public who actually attend the meetings. It took officers six months to agree, then six months to put it into operation and even then they only gave the questionnaire to people at one meeting – out of more than 30 in the year. So when they report finally came out it was a fudge. A whitewash.
“One thing it did find was that since the £3,000 was introduced, councillors are less likely to oppose planning applications – but they see this as a good thing.
“Now, I am not suggesting for a second any of them are motivated by money, but if someone was on the wrong end of a planning decision, they might think the councillors don’t want to ruffle any feathers so they can keep their allowance.”
A council spokesman said: “This was a very long running scrutiny that heard evidence from a number of witnesses. The scrutiny committee concluded that the current planning committee structure works well.
“At the request of the committee, a customer satisfaction questionnaire was piloted. The content of the questionnaire was agreed with the committee. This worked well, and will be repeated in future.”