Thursday 3 March 2022

Has Brighton Marina Cost Barnet Residents a Fortune?

 As part of the justification for renewing the contract with Capita, a report setting out the achievements of our outsourced planners included a very curious statement. 

I was somewhat surprised that Capita should be boasting about working for Brighton Marina for 2 years when maybe their attention should be focused on Barnet, so I asked a specific question about it.

"The report suggests that a principal officer spending two years on the Brighton Marina is a good thing; many would say it is the opposite. Major developers seem to have their own VIP lane. Has this decision on planning been made purely on a financial basis and have you lost sight of the service quality imperative?"

The response I got from Barnet was brief to say the least:

"The Brighton Marina project was cited as one example of a project that enables planning officers to broaden their range of experience and knowledge and it was carried out at no cost to the council." 

That was on 23 November last year. Skip forward to last week and Barnet was hit with not one, but two appeals on major planning projects for "non determination". This is where the planning authority fails to decide on a planning application within a defined timescale, which for major projects is 13 weeks. One project was Barnet House at Whetstone and the other was the Victoria Quarter in New Barnet. The council will have to defend these appeals to the Planning Inspectorate, which could cost serious money, and if the Inspector finds that Barnet were at fault, we could be liable for the developer's appeal and legal costs as well. 

Maybe if the Capita planning officers spent a bit more time dealing with Barnet's applications and less time trying to earn money in Brighton, we might avoid incurring significant costs having to defend these planning appeals. I also raised some very serious concerns about the way the planning department is run and its failure to comply with Local Government Association guidelines on pre application advice. Barnet's response was suitably robust 

"We strongly believe that the planning service is in compliance with all legal, transparency and probity requirements. However, if you have specific evidence to the contrary, we will of course arrange for it to be examined".

Last week I submitted that evidence to Barnet's Internal Audit department and will await how they investigate this further. 

Barnet's insistence that Capita are doing a great job in planning and that is why they should retain the contract for another 5 years looks to me somewhat misguided and the sooner it is brought back in house the better.