Oldham Chief Planner @StevethePlanner – Recommends Approving Housing – Suspended as classed as ‘Gross Misconduct’

Place Northwest

What happens when you have an incompetent planning chair and seeking to shift blame for an inevitably unpopular development

Oldham’s head of planning Stephen Irvine has been suspended amid claims of “gross misconduct”, with the borough’s Liberal Democrat leader calling for an investigation as to whether the allegations focus on two controversial planning applications, including one by Russell Homes at Knowls Lane.

In a letter to Oldham Council’s deputy chief executive Helen Lockwood, Cllr Howard Sykes, leader of the borough’s Liberal Democrat group, flagged the Knowls Lane application as one of two schemes to be investigated following the allegations against Irvine. The other project relates to 32 houses for First Choice Homes at Hodge Clough Road.

Cllr Sykes said: “If it is the case that the allegations of ‘gross misconduct’ apply in any way to either of these applications, then I would ask that a similar process to the way that the approval decision for Saddleworth School was passed and then ‘revoked’, the decisions in relation to these applications are similarly ‘revoked’ and returned to the planning committee with appropriate reports for decision.

“The impact of both these applications is huge, especially in relation to openness, transparency and public confidence.  People need their faith restoring in modern politics, the Liberal Democrats want answers for local residents.”

Irvine has been in his role since November 2015, having previously worked as a planning director at NLP, and at Cheshire East Council, where he was planning manager.

Oldham’s planning committee has been embroiled in controversy in recent months particularly around Russell Homes’ application; local groups vehemently opposed the project, which will see 265 houses built on a 39-acre greenfield site in the Lees area of the borough.

At the committee on 1 July, following the initial cases for and against the scheme, an initial motion to refuse was defeated by five votes to three; with shouts from the chamber calling for a decision to be deferred, and a confused break where the process of putting forward a motion to approve was explained, another vote was held.

Commitee chair Cllr Clint Phythian, councillor for Royton North, initially announced the decision was unanimous to an incredulous response from other speakers. A final figure of the vote was not announced by the chairman, who simply said the application had been approved, before adjourning the meeting. The decision was greeted by a wave of heckles and cries of “kangaroo court” from the public gallery.

At the same committee, proposals for 27 homes at Pearly Bank were also passed despite a vote having to take place three times. During the meeting planning process was explained to the committee’s chair in detail, before it was announced the project had been refused; however, following another vote, the scheme was approved following several miscounts.

The Council Leaders Own Blog

Shock suspension of Head of Planning at Oldham Council

After a formal request, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, Liberal Democrat Leader in Oldham Borough has been informed that the Head of Planning and Infrastructure, Steven Irvine, has been suspended from the Council.  He has been suspended from duties whilst allegations of ‘gross misconduct’ are ‘fully investigated’.

Councillor Sykes MBE wants to know how long for and what steps have been put in place to maintain a planning service.  “Currently it is far from perfect and I and other councilors are getting lots of complaints from residents and business,” stated Councillor Sykes.

“There is currently a large amount of public unrest in relation to the Planning Officer’s Reports in relation to two applications leading to decisions of approval:

1: PA/342008/18 Land at Hodge Clough Road Oldham

2. PA/343269/19 Land at Knowls Lane, Oldham

The implication of the approval for both these applications is significant, particularly in relation to openness, transparency and public confidence.”

“If it is the case that the allegations of ‘gross misconduct’ apply in any way to either of these applications, then I would ask that a similar process to the way that the approval decision for Saddleworth School was passed and then ‘revoked’, the decisions in relation to these applications are similarly ‘revoked’ and returned to the Planning Committee with appropriate reports for decision,” Councillor Sykes demanded.

“The impact of both these applications is huge, especially in relation to openness, transparency and public confidence.  People need their faith restoring in modern politics, the Liberal Democrats want answers for local residents.”

Copy of letter below:

1 August 2019

Dear Helen Lockwood,

Re:  Suspension of Head of Planning

After a formal request I have now been informed that the Head of Planning and Infrastructure, Steven Irvine has been suspended from duties whilst allegations of ‘gross misconduct’ are ‘fully investigated’.

It would be useful to know the time period for the above and what specific steps have been put in place to maintain a planning service for residents and businesses.

However, that is not the main point in my writing.

There is currently a large amount of public unrest in relation to the Planning Officer’s Reports in relation to two applications leading to decisions of approval:

1: PA/342008/18 Land at Hodge Clough Road Oldham

2. PA/343269/19 Land at Knowls Lane, Oldham

The implication of the approval for both these applications is significant, particularly in relation to openness, transparency and public confidence.

If it is the case that the allegations of ‘gross misconduct’ apply in any way to either of these applications, then I would ask that a similar process to the way that the approval decision for Saddleworth School was passed and then ‘revoked’, the decisions in relation to these applications are similarly ‘revoked’ and returned to the Planning Committee with appropriate reports for decision.

I await your comments and response with interest.

Yours sincerely

Howard Sykes

Although the Cllr management of the committee and the nature of the suspension is disgraceful there was a howler of an error in the reports that any planner will spot

Lets consider the relevant Policy 3 JLP lemma

Managing the release of housing land
Planning applications for residential development, in whole or as part of a mixed-use scheme, will be permitted where:

a. the site is allocated for residential development or mixed-use and has come forward in line  with the council’s approach to phasing, reflecting the residential distribution described above;
or
b. the site is allocated for residential development or mixed-use and has come forward
prematurely from the phasing set out in the Site Allocations DPD and does not undermine other national and local guidance and policies: and
i. a deliverable five-year supply of housing land cannot be demonstrated; or
ii. it contributes to the delivery of the borough’s regeneration priorities; or
iii. it contributes to the delivery of affordable housing that meets the local affordable housing needs.
Proposals on a non-allocated site for residential development will be considered favourably where it meets the three criteria listed under b above or it is for a small development, comprising a change of use or conversion or not identified in the council’s SHLAA.

The Committee report omits the highlighted section and then says that as the site is not -allocated the three criteria apply.  Which has led some objectors to state that the policy doesn’t apply as the site is not allocated.  There certainly was an editing error in the report however planning committee members can be expected to read and know the key policies of a local plan, as can, with some help often, objectors.  There is a case only for a mile reprimand from the CE and not suspension as the outcome of the case would have been the same recommendation and the same decision.  As the leader of the Council should know if he took 30 second to read his own local plan.  The suspension is a disgrace and should be revoked immediately.

Inspectors You had One Job ‘ We are Not just Going to Choose a [Housing] Figure We Prefer’

No wonder the West of England Joint Plan ran in to trouble with such strangeness.

Just is what a panel for – to choose the ‘style’ of plan they like [facepalm].

Bristol Live

Councils don’t want too many houses built in the West of England over the next 20 years in case they are “left empty”.

The local authorities for Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset have estimated the region will need 105,000 new homes by 2036.

They defended that number on July 4 as an examination of their joint spatial plan by government officials entered its third day.

Planning inspectors Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee will determine whether the plan should be adopted, revised or withdrawn.

Developers, transport chiefs, campaign groups and other interested parties weighed in over the councils’ housing target, with home builders calling for it to be boosted to 140,000 and opponents saying it should be cut by as much as half.

But consultant Jonathan Lee, representing the four councils, defended the 105,000 figure, saying it was based on a “sound” assessment of housing need.

He admitted that figure would not deliver all of the 30,000 affordable homes needed, but said the council did not want to risk adding too many more homes to the market.

“We have to understand who is going to live in those houses,” he said. “We don’t want houses to be left empty.”

Barrister Christopher Young, representing a consortium of eight housing developers, said he found Mr Lee’s comments “strange”.

“I don’t think there’s any problems with houses being filled,” he said on behalf of Barratt Homes, Bloor Homes, Crest Nicholson, L&Q Estates, Gladman, Redrow Homes, Robert Hitchins, and Taylor Wimpey.

Mr Young argued vociferously that the housing market was “broken” and a “substantial boost” in the numbers was needed to improve housing affordability.

The consortium proposes boosting the housing target to 140,000, a figure backed by the Home Builders Federation.

The federation’s James Stevens said: “This is one of the most highly charged housing markets in the country. You could build 200,000 homes here and have no problem at all.”

Simon Fitton, from Crest, said “overallocation” of housing was the only way to build sufficient flexibility into the housing plan.

And Matt Griffith from industry group Business West warned that constraining house building risked jeopardising economic growth in the region.

But representatives from residents’ groups TRAPPD (Thornbury Residents Against Poorly Planned Development) and Nailsea Action Group expressed concern that the councils’ target of 105,000 homes was too high.

Robert Davis from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Avonside suggested a much lower target of 70,000 to 80,000, saying the West of England had already done “its fair share” of house building over the last 20 years.

Mr Davis said area was becoming “overcrowded” and that adding too many more new homes would put too much pressure on the community.

Mr Young asked the planning inspectors whether they would contemplate an “uplift” in the housing target to the level sought by developers.

But Mr Rivett replied: “We’re not just going to choose a figure we prefer.”

The councils’ calculation of housing need took into account predictions of population growth, demographic trends, migration, job growth, household numbers, house prices and other factors.

Student growth was also taken into account, except in the Bath area, where student housing is to be considered separately under the local plan.

Each factor used in the calculation was argued over by participants in the meeting.

The examination of the joint spatial plan continues next week, and further hearings are planned in September and October.

A decision is not expected before the end of this year.