Regret expressed by Uttlesford council officer over comments made at ‘heated’ planning meeting
PUBLISHED: 08:14 30 March 2018 | UPDATED: 08:14 30 March 2018
‘Concerning’ comments picked up on a microphone at a district council planning meeting in which a planning officer said he would be telling a developer to “go for costs” against the authority have been met with criticism.
A recording of the Uttlesford District Council (UDC) planning committee meeting held on March 14 heard a planning officer describe the decision to refuse Persimmon Homes’ application to build 36 houses next to Henham and Ugley Primary School as “the dumbest decision” before adding “[Persimmon] has got to go for costs”.
The meeting’s chairman, Councillor Alan Mills, is heard to respond on the recording by saying “no, he hasn’t got to go for costs”, to which the planning officer says “I’m going to tell him to go for costs”.
Cllr Mills then responds: “No, don’t tell him to go for costs. I don’t want the council to be losing £50,000, £100,000.”
In a joint statement, the governing board at Henham and Ugley Primary School and Henham Parish Council said: “Many Henham school parents and Uttlesford residents are concerned following comments heard on the audio recording of the planning committee meeting on March 14.
“The threat of costs that can be requested by developers at appeal might be used to influence decisions made within the planning department. Several comments have been made to us that children’s lives do not have a price tag and neither does their safety.
“The district councillors previously had the opportunity to visit and view the site. They used the evidence before them and applied a common sense approach in reaching their decision that this Persimmon proposal would put children in danger.”
The governing board added: “Our new head teacher, Kim Hall, and governors are simply trying to keep children and their families out of harms way.
“We would much rather be able to focus all of our attention on getting our school to ‘outstanding’ and ensuring the best possible education for our children.”
A spokesman for UDC said: “On occasion, council officers may need to advise councillors of a risk of an adverse costs award. But it is never acceptable for an officer to say that he will encourage a developer to seek costs against the council.
“The comments followed a heated and emotional discussion about the planning application and the officer concerned has expressed his regret.”