It’s that old open secret isn’t it: Herefordshire Council’s planning department is bent. You can’t put your finger on it but you know there’s dodgy deals that go on behind closed doors.
Those closed doors were thrown wide open on the morning of 11th February, when the planning committee met to discuss four applications, two of which were submitted by members of the planning committee themselves.
Naturally with a conflict of interest the two councillors were prevented from speaking on their own applications (and one couldn’t be bothered to turn up at all).
The committee heard of plans, submitted by Independent councillor John Hardwick, for 22 family homes and 11 affordable homes in Fownhope – a constituent village of the Backbury ward he represents.
The council’s principal planning officer concluded the application did not constitute a major development in local terms and recommended it for approval.
The chairman however, Tory councillor Phil ‘free lunch’ Cutter, ignored the professional advice and refused permission, claiming it was a major development. He then instructing council planning officers to find reasons to support his view in the formal refusal, despite their recommendation it be approved.
On to the application by the absent Tory councillor, Dave Greenow, for a three-bed house in Dinedor.
Fellow Tory councillor, Peter Sinclair-Knipe, spoke up in favour, giving it all the emotional X Factor sob-story of ‘personal family circumstances’ and the ‘demands of modern farming’.
Despite these amateur dramatics other members of the planning committee noted that:
• “The applicant had failed to engage with the planning process and provide information required to support the application.”
• “The application was contrary to policy. Information to support approval having regard to paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework had not been provided.”
• And crucially, it was recommended for refusal by the principal planning officer, who said the application had originally been for an agricultural dwelling “but evidence to support the functional need had not been provided”. The officer said the current application was for a house on the open market, in open countryside, and on that basis should be refused.
This time the committee chairman, Free-lunch Cutter (who is Greenow’s “best buddy”, according to one councillor we spoke to), approved the application with a nod.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how corruption works.