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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s