Tory activist withdraws corruption allegations
As Chair of the committee which oversees Planning, amongst other things, concerns over statements made by Jason Hughes, a Tory activist and election agent, at a recent Development Control Committee meeting were brought to my attention. At this public meeting Mr Hughes alleged that the perfectly legal and transparent pre-application advice process used by the applicant for a development he was opposing was corrupt and amounted to collusion with the council.
This represents a gross misunderstanding of a process common to many Local Planning Authorities and was a slur on both the applicant and professionally qualified officers of the council. I received complaints about Mr Hughes’ behaviour from the applicant, from officers and from members. As a result the Chief Executive of Sutton Council contacted Mr Hughes requesting substantiation of these public accusations. In response Mr Hughes supplied a letter of apology withdrawing his statements and removed the most offensive posts from the Sutton South blog where the allegations had also appeared.
Pre-application advice is a paid for service which means that an applicant can have their planning application reviewed by planning officers in advance of formal submission. This enables them to obtain feedback on any matters which planning officers might find unacceptable in planning terms so that the applicant can amend their plans to ensure that when submitted they fully conform with the borough’s local planning policies. The process is explained in more detail on the Council’s website.
For major applications agents can enter into a Planning Performance Agreement, again a service which allows planners and developers to work together to agree how an application will be managed through the planning process to ensure that a proposed development conforms with the local planning policies and has a positive impact on the area. Such agreements have seen proposals for the North Sutton gas holders site brought forward, as well as unlocking the potential in other key sites.
This form of working is part of our Opportunity Sutton approach to encourage the right kind of development and investment that will enhance not harm the borough. At the Opportunity Sutton event we had glowing testimonies about our approach from businesses that have worked with us. That is why it is extremely harmful when these transparent, legal and widely used planning agreements are deliberately undermined.
As was evident from the outcome of the planning committee in question, there is no obligation for members to grant an application brought forward in this way, as the councillors on the committee will apply their local knowledge to determine whether the evidence supporting an application is robust enough to satisfy any concerns.
The applicant and officers will be pleased to have received the apology from Jason Hughes. Unfortunately the blog in question still has an audio link where the offending comments can be heard, but the accompanying withdrawal of the comments and apology has not been publicised.
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