Bins, Biffa, page 59, Wirral Council, “Confidential Information” and what you’re not supposed to know (yet)

Bins, Biffa, page 59, Wirral Council, “Confidential Information” and what you’re not supposed to know (yet)

Bins, Biffa, page 59, Wirral Council, “Confidential Information” and what you’re not supposed to know (yet)

                                               

I was reading through the Biffa contract (who get paid ~£12 million a year for collecting bins and other things) and this interesting snippet about Freedom of Information and Data Protection caught my eye on page 59. I haven’t made any FOI requests for the yearly CO2 emissions of bin lorries but this is how such a request would be dealt with if someone were to do so. This is probably only of interest to those who work in this area such as the media, FOI practitioners and of limited interest to the public, so apologies if I’m getting boring! Contractor in the contract refers to Biffa Waste Services Limited. At 4.61.2.3 I couldn’t help but laugh at the bit about time for compliance for FOI requests considering Wirral Council’s track record and my recent decision notice from ICO on that matter.

The “absolute discretion” bit in 4.61.3 is very interesting as quite often local councils refuse to release information about companies and contracts on commercial sensitivity grounds saying well we’d like to give you this information but company X won’t let us.

Last Thursday (11th September 2014) Wirral Council’s Cabinet agreed to ask Kevin Adderley to enter into negotiations with Biffa over extending this ~£12 million/year contract from 2020 to 2027 without putting it out to tender. However an extra clause was added over value for money. Mr. Adderley was asked to report back to a future Cabinet meeting on the outcome of negotiations.

However the contract does state that if Wirral Council wish to extend the contract from 2020 to 2027 they don’t have to tell Biffa this until on or before 21st August 2019. So why the big rush other than to pander to Biffa’s commercial interests and damage Wirral Council’s?

Well from what was said at the Cabinet meeting Biffa Waste Services Limited have offered Wirral Council “incentives” on the current contract (which runs to 2020) if Wirral Council agree to a seven-year contract extension and don’t put it out to competitive tender when it expires in 2020.

Extending the contract by seven years is effectively making a decision that will tie the hands of future administrations (of whatever party or parties) at Wirral Council. However I’m sure (if officers are doing their job properly) that what I’ve just written is the kind of details that were in the exempt appendices for last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting. The Labour politicians on Wirral Council’s Cabinet decided that the public aren’t really supposed to know about it (which is why the press and public got chucked out of the public meeting before those appendices were decided despite the public interest test arguably being in favour of such stuff being in the public domain).

Another factor to consider is that from November 2014 Wirral Council will be under a legal duty to publish such contracts (we here have a copy of the very long contract as part of the 2013/14 audit but it would probably take me about a day of work just to publish a fraction of it as it is very, very, very long) and from November 2014 invoices. Hence I’m sure Biffa are keen to have it extended by seven years, before people like the Rt Hon Frank Field MP start referring to them again (see the last Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting for that) and anyone kicks up more of a fuss! Oh dear, have I let an awful lot of cats out of the bag yet again?

======================================================================================================================

4.61 Freedom of Information and Data Protection

4.61.1 The Contractor acknowledges that the Council is subject to the requirements of the FOIA and the Environmental Information Regulations and shall assist and cooperate with the Council (at the Contractor’s expense) to enable the Council to comply with Information disclosure requirements.

4.61.2 The Contractor shall and shall procure that its sub-contractors shall:

4.61.2.1 Transfer a Request for Information to the Council as soon as practicable after receipt and in any event within two Working Days of receiving a Request for Information;

4.61.2.2 Provide the Council with a copy of all Information in its possession or power in the form that the Council requires within five Working Days (or such other period as the Council may specify) of the Council requesting that Information; and

4.61.2.3 Provide all necessary assistance as reasonably requested by the Council to enable the Council to respond to a Request for Information within the time for compliance set out in section 10 of the FOIA or Regulation 5(2) of the Environmental Information Regulations.

4.61.3 The Council shall be responsible for determining at its absolute discretion whether:-

4.61.3.1 The Information is exempt from disclosure under FOIA and the Environmental Information Regulations;

4.61.3.2 The Information is to be disclosed in response to a Request for Information, and

4.61.3.3 In no event shall the Contractor respond directly to a Request for Information unless expressly authorised to do so by the Council.

4.61.4 The Contractor acknowledge that the Council may, acting in accordance with the FOIA, or the Environmental Information Regulations disclose Information:-

4.61.4.1 Without consulting with the Contractor, or

4.61.4.2 Following consultation with the Contractor and having taken its views into account.

4.61.5 The Contractor acknowledges that any lists or schedules provided by it outlining Confidential Information are of indicative value only and that the Council may nevertheless be obliged to disclose Confidential Information in accordance with Clause 4.60.2.1.6.3.

4.61.6 The Contractor shall ensure that all information produced in the course of the Contract relating to the Contract is retained for disclosure and shall permit the Council to inspect such records as requested from time to time.

======================================================================================================================

Biffa Waste Services Limited contract Wirral Council page 59
Biffa Waste Services Limited contract Wirral Council page 59
Biffa Waste Services Limited contract Wirral Council page 25
Biffa Waste Services Limited contract Wirral Council page 25

If you click on any of these buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people. Thanks:

Biffa asks Wirral’s Cabinet for a 10 year extension to bins & street cleaning contract worth at least £120 million

Biffa asks Wirral’s Cabinet for a 10 year extension to bins & street cleaning contract worth at least £120 million

Biffa asks Wirral’s Cabinet for a 10 year extension to bins & street cleaning contract worth at least £120 million

                                                      

Biffa Waste Service Limited November 2013 Invoice Wirral Council £1036840.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited November 2013 Invoice Wirral Council £1036840.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited December 2013 Invoice Wirral Council £1032201.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited December 2013 Invoice Wirral Council £1032201.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited January 2014 Invoice Wirral Council £1032201.28
Biffa Waste Service Limited January 2014 Invoice Wirral Council £1032201.28

Above are three of the recent monthly invoices to Wirral Council from Biffa Waste Services Limited for November 2013 (£1,036,840.28), December 2013 (£1,032,201.28) and January 2014 (£1,032,201.28).

I did not request the invoices for other months during that financial year (2013/14), but I would assume that the other nine are for similar amounts of around a million pounds. So why am I writing about this and what does Biffa Waste Services Limited actually do for it’s ~£12 million it receives each year from the taxpayer?

Well as shown on the invoices it’s for collecting the bins, cleaning the streets and extra amounts for working on a Bank Holiday. I’ll be looking more closely at the current contract with Biffa Waste Services Limited (which runs to 2017) tomorrow morning (if all goes well).

However there is some political news on the Biffa front, in fact Wirral Council seems to be bolstering itself for a bit of bad press coverage judging by the Cabinet papers for tonight’s Cabinet meeting (only tonight if you happen to reading this on the 11th September 2014).

If you’re interested in reading the papers yourself on Wirral Council’s website, it’s the Streetscene Environment Services Contract Extension item which is item 4 on Cabinet’s agenda.

I remember Mark Smith (a Wirral Council officer who is Head of Environment and Regulation) getting a grilling by the Chair (Rt Hon Frank Field MP) at a recent Birkenhead Constituency Committee meeting about what the Rt Hon Frank Field MP seemed to see as a lack of openness and transparency in the area of how Wirral Council manages the Biffa contract.

In the Rt Hon Frank Field MP’s view (from my memory of the meeting) he wanted (rather reasonably some might say) to know exactly what the public were getting for the ~£12 million a year that the taxpayer pays Biffa Waste Services Limited through Wirral Council. Sadly there was no one present at the meeting to answer for Biffa Waste Services Limited and Mark Smith seemed to struggle a little to give the kind of answers that Rt Hon Frank Field MP seemed to want to hear. However moving on from the frustrations of Birkenhead’s MP/Chair of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee to more local politics (although isn’t all politics local)?

Rather helpfully Appendix 5 to the Streetscene Environment Services Contract Extension item contains the following two entries on the risk register (copied below):

Risk No Description of risk Risk category Risk Owner Gross likelihood Score Gross impact score Total Gross Score Net Likelihood Score Net Impact Score Total Net Score Proposed Controls Responsibility Target date RAG Status
1 District Audit scrutiny on decision process likely Legal / Regulatory Tara Dumas 3 4 12 3 2 6 Member decision based on thorough analysis of risks. Best value comparison work to be undertaken – Local benchmarking plus APSE/Audit commission comparison Update on market position sought from previous consultants contracted to review Biffa contract. Process to be reviewed by internal audit TD
TD
TD
MGa
07/07/14
completed
07/07/14
07/07/14
G
C
G
G
2 Negative political and
media attention
Political/societal PR team – Kathryn Green 5 3 15 3 2 6 Proactive approach by PR with press releases Confirm offer not linked to service/workforce changes LF Post decision 31/5/2014 G
C

In other words, Wirral Council know (before any decision is formally made tonight to enter into negotiations) that it will cause all kinds of trouble. They’ve already decided (it seems) on a public relations line of telling the press it won’t lead to job losses/workforce changes and giving them the “gift” of a press release in the hope that most of the media will just print the press release more or less verbatim and not ask too many awkward questions about the matter.

They even know their external auditor (Grant Thornton) will be asking them a whole bunch of questions to do with it too but surprisingly there are even bigger risks than the media and Wirral Council’s auditors to tackle, although read the risk register at appendix 5 and hopefully you’ll see what I mean.

So how can I sum up what is proposed to be decided tonight quickly? The current contract will Biffa Waste Services Limited will end on March 2017.

The impression I get from reading between the lines of the Cabinet papers, (a lot of the detail has been kept deliberately secret by officers who are recommending to politicians to keep it secret too on grounds of commercial confidentiality) is that Biffa Waste Services Limited seemed to be somewhat concerned that if their multi-million pound 11 year contract ends on March 2017, that they would have to bid in a competitive tender against other companies and organisations for the new contract.

There’s then uncertainty (from Biffa’s perspective) over whether they would end up being the successful bidder or not. It’s called “competition” and is generally required for such large multi-million pound contracts because of all kinds of laws I won’t go into at this point and competition is therefore required for a whole bunch of good reasons.

So someone as Biffa Waste Services Limited has read through the contract they have with Wirral Council and found a caveat. There was a part in the contract that could extend it a further ten years (current prices of ~£12 million a year but yearly increases and variation are usually built-in). This contract covers “all household waste and recycling collections, street cleansing and fly tip removal, waste collection from schools and council offices and wheeled bin deliveries.”

All Biffa had to do to get a further ten years (at ~£12 million a year) was make a formal offer to Wirral Council (which they did) and have this agreed to by Wirral Council (which hasn’t happened yet with the earliest date expected being October 2014).

Due to the size of the amounts involved it has to be a decision made by politicians, specifically Wirral Council’s Cabinet and the councillor with responsibility for this area is the new(ish) Cabinet Member for Environment and Sustainability Councillor Bernie Mooney (who replaced Brian Kenny earlier this year when he lost an election in May to the Green Party councillor Pat Cleary).

However what’s in the currently exempt appendices?

Well appendix 1 covers the “value and suggested terms of the formal offer from Biffa in return for the Council extending the contract to 2027. In summary the proposal offers the Council a one-off saving split between 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 followed by a continued annual reduction in the core contract price throughout the remainder of the extended contract period to the equivalent value. Officers asked Biffa to clarify the benefits to Biffa if the contract extension was agreed.”

I’m not allowed to link to appendix 1 (as it’s currently a big secret and you’d get an “access denied” type message from Wirral Council’s website if I did), but as the language used by a Wirral Council officer is rather opaque, it has to boil down to how I imagine a summary of what Biffa offered Wirral Council … “give us a further ten years and we will give you very good price if you pick us. Our price is very reasonable, many savings to be had, very good price, you buy from us again we treat you well. We are very good supplier and will take your bins to tip and keep streets clean for another 10 years for a very reasonable price.”

Wirral Council officers asked Biffa to clarify what Biffa would get out of extending the contract a further ten years.

Biffa responded to this on the 10th February 2014. Again I’m not allowed to show you Biffa’s response either on the instructions of Wirral Council officers!

The summary of this response is again in rather opaque language “Biffa indicated that the savings they could offer arose from avoiding future procurement and mobilisation costs, the ability to re-finance their operations and a reduction in overheads due to the stable nature of the contract. The discount is not linked to any service changes.”

In other words Biffa are saying “grant us a monopoly, save us the cost of having to retender for the contract in 2017, Wirral Council will save money from having to retender the contract” (which is a bit of a debatable point really anyway considering the extra costs this will cause doing it this way) “and Biffa will be able to borrow money cheaper because we’ll have a longer contract.” To be honest I don’t agree entirely with Biffa’s point about overheads being significantly lower to justify this.

Another letter from Biffa (exempt appendix 3) is also currently being kept secret by Wirral Council officers (pending a decision by politicians). This letter is about an offer to redesign the fleet of bin lorries from 2017 to collect things such as food waste (to meet Wirral Council’s recycling targets).

However Biffa make it clear that this is absolutely Biffa’s final offer (well unless Wirral Council’s Cabinet say no to negotiations or no to the offer in October 2014 and Biffa have to bid for the new contract starting in 2017)!

Wirral Council officers seem very keen to have the Labour councillors on Wirral Council’s Cabinet agree to Biffa’s plan. “80p cheaper per a Wirral person than Liverpool” they state in the report, but strangely 15p more per a person than in Sefton!

Of course Wirral Council’s Cabinet could just choose to reject Biffa’s proposal and decide to bring the service in-house from 2017.

The recent street cleansing cuts to the contract, have been the source of both political and media attention in the recent past. However, what’s the officer’s recommendation?

Oh and before I get to that, Wirral Council asked Eunomia (are they consultants?) in 2012 to look at the Biffa contract, the consultants in fact suggested the contract should be retendered! Eunomia also suggested that if Wirral Council did agree to extend the contract by a further ten years than there should be changes to “contract clauses relating to indexation, labour cost inflation and future efficiency gains” which would be extremely sensible to do considering the current contract is linked to RPI (and let’s face it inflation is quite high)! However the Eunomia assessment is now two years out of date and things have changed somewhat since then.

As Wirral Council officers freely admit in 5.3.4 of this report, they don’t really know if this will save any money at all versus retendering the contract, it all just seems to be educated guesswork and unknown quantities.

The estimated savings have been listed, but surprisingly (and isn’t this usually the case?) not the increased costs (such as an increased audit bill from Grant Thornton for extra work).

It’s the report gets to “legal implications” that things start to get interesting!

Here’s a quote from 10.2 “The Legal colleagues have highlighted that it is necessary to limit the amount of material changes to the contract in order to minimise the risk of the Council being challenged on the legalities of the extension.”

In other words, do it right otherwise one of Biffa’s competitors, or in fact anyone could sue Wirral Council over how it was done.

Then entering into catch 22 territory the legal advice continues:

“Due consideration has been given to establishing whether the Biffa proposal offers Value for Money (Sections 4 and 5 refers) as required under the Council’s Contract Procedure Rules. However, it is important to note that the only decisive way to determine whether a more advantageous contract could be secured by the Council would be through retendering the contract.”

In other words, Wirral Council don’t know whether this saves them money without retendering the contract in 2017, but if they agree to Biffa’s proposal they won’t be retendering the contract in 2017 so they’ll never really know or be able to prove “value for money” to their external auditors Grant Thornton.

However let’s see, what do officers want? They want politicians to agree to them to enter into negotiations with Biffa, more specifically the Strategic Director of Regeneration and Environment (currently Kevin Adderley) and then report back to Cabinet no later than October 2014.

Personally (and this is just an opinion) I think politicians on the Cabinet will probably agree to enter into negotiations with Biffa tonight (even though Labour’s tendency in the past has been to bring back services in-house), if only just to keep their options open in October 2014. Quite what the Rt Hon Frank Field MP’s views on this latest development in the Biffa saga are at the time of writing unknown.

Coming up next today: What Wirral Council’s Cabinet is planning to do about Children’s Centres.

If you click on any of these buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people. Thanks:

Mayor of Wirral Cllr Steve Foulkes welcomes 9 new councillors & Cllr Phil Davies announces Cabinet reshuffle

Mayor of Wirral Cllr Steve Foulkes welcomes 9 new councillors & Cllr Phil Davies announces Cabinet reshuffle

Mayor of Wirral Cllr Steve Foulkes welcomes 9 new councillors & Cllr Phil Davies announces Cabinet reshuffle

                                 

Please accept YouTube cookies to play this video. By accepting you will be accessing content from YouTube, a service provided by an external third party.

YouTube privacy policy

If you accept this notice, your choice will be saved and the page will refresh.

Mayor of Wirral Councillor Steve Foulkes and councillors listen to Councillor Phil Davies announce his Cabinet reshuffle 9th June 2014
Mayor of Wirral Councillor Steve Foulkes and councillors listen to Councillor Phil Davies announce his Cabinet reshuffle 9th June 2014

Craig Manning has already written in the Wirral Globe about the chairs issue decided later in the meeting, so I thought I’d write about some other things announced earlier on in the meeting.

The Mayor’s announcements were brief, so I will directly quote what the Mayor of Wirral Councillor Steve Foulkes said below:

MAYOR OF WIRRAL COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
The next item on the agenda are Mayor’s announcements. I’ll be extremely brief. I have been informed of two other apologies. I have Tracey Smith, John Hale, I also have Councillor Leah Fraser and Paul Hayes. Are there any other apologies for absence tonight? OK, thank you for that.

OK, Mayor’s announcements, I would personally really like to welcome our nine newly elected Members, I hope they enjoy their time as an elected Member. As I said during my Mayoral acceptance speech, I will be championing the role of the councillors and I think it’s important to whilst we’re welcoming the new councillors, it’s actually fair to put on record our gratitude to those who didn’t return for whatever reason either through the electoral results or people, many people stood down. So with that, with the permission of the Council I’d like to then as Mayor thank them for the service they’ve given to this Authority.

COUNCILLORS
Hear! Hear!

MAYOR OF WIRRAL COUNCILLOR STEVE FOULKES
OK, the other thing I would like to say is well done to everybody and the attendance at Councillor Kate Wood’s funeral. It was a very, very apt send off for a great politician and a great friend to many of us in this room and congratulations to everyone who made the effort and the other issue is, a couple of dates for your diary. I’m going through this as quick as I can.

You’ll notice there is no chaplain, there’ll be no chaplain at Council meetings throughout the year. However we will be holding a civic Sunday and that will be at Saint James’ church on the 10th August, 10.30am, at St. James in the heart of the North End of Birkenhead where I was brought up. Please if Members could come along and attend that and another one for your diary is the Charity Ball. Mayor’s Charity Ball at Thornton Hall on the 17th October, so if any of you would like to go there for Members and that is the end of Mayor’s announcements.

Councillor Phil Davies announced a Cabinet reshuffle. He said that he’d have ten councillors in his Cabinet. He was welcoming two new councillors to his Cabinet. Councillor Bernie Mooney was now the Cabinet Member for Environment and Sustainability and Councillor Stuart Whittingham the Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport.

Councillor Phil Davies said, “I would like to take this opportunity to record my sincere thanks to Councillor Harry Smith who is standing down from the Cabinet. Harry has made a unique contribution to Cabinet and Council over many years and I greatly appreciate the excellent work that he has done as Lead Member for this portfolio.”

If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this with other people.

If a councillor on Wirral Council’s Planning Committee is lobbied and no form is submitted, does anyone know about it?

If a councillor on Wirral Council’s Planning Committee is lobbied and no form is submitted, does anyone know about it?

If a councillor on Wirral Council’s Planning Committee is lobbied and no form is submitted, does anyone know about it?

                        

At the time of writing, there is an election underway. Once the results are know, twenty-three people will become councillors and asked to sign a declaration that they each accept the office of councillor. Regulation 2 of The Local Elections (Principal Areas) (Declaration of Acceptance of Office) Order 1990 specifies the form that a declaration should take. It is short so it is copied below.

DECLARATION OF ACCEPTANCE OF OFFICE

I, ……. having been elected to the office of councillor declare that I take that office upon myself, and will duly and faithfully fulfill the duties of it according to the best of my judgement and ability.

I undertake to be guided by the National Code of Local Government Conduct in the performance of my functions in that office.

Date ………. Signed ……..

This declaration was made and signed before me

Signed ……..

*Proper officer of the council of the county, district or London Borough of ……

*If the declaration is made before any other person authorised by section 83(3) of the Local Government Act 1972, adapt accordingly.

So all the councillors on Wirral Council’s Planning Committee have each signed a clause in their acceptance of office which states they will “be guided” by the National Code of Local Government Conduct when undertaking their duties as councillor.

The National Code of Local Government Conduct, which the Secretary of State issues under s.31 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 states this on the subject of lobbying about planning applications.

LOCAL SUPPLEMENT TO CODE OF CONDUCT FOR MEMBERS

Contracts, Planning Applications etc: Canvassing

  1. If you are canvassed by any member of the public who requests, directly or indirectly, your aid in securing a business contract with the Council or in the determination of a planning or other application you shall, subject to the qualification contained in the following paragraph, report such canvassing to the Director of Corporate Services, who shall investigate and, where appropriate, report on such canvassing to the Council.
  2. Subject to paragraph 6 below in relation to contracts, a passing comment by a member of the public on a matter of public interest should not necessarily be construed as canvassing; in assessing whether an approach merits reporting the matter to the Director of Corporate Services, you should consider the circumstances of the approach and whether the approach appears to be made from a narrow vested interest or whether it can justly be described as being in the wider public interest.

Wirral Council has a Code of Conduct to guide both councillors and officers in how planning matters are dealt with. The sections of it that deal with lobbying and the National Code of Local Government Conduct are included below.

1.2 This Code of Conduct relating to Planning Matters is intended to be supplementary to the National Code of Local Government Conduct prepared by the Secretary of State for the Environment under provision of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. The provisions of the National Code continue to have full force and effect. The purpose of this Code is to provide more detailed guidance on the standards to be applied in relation to planning related issues.

….

1.6 It is recognised that Members will, from time to time, be approached by developers and objectors in relation to planning proposals.

1.7 Part of this Code is intended to assist Members in dealing with and recording such approaches and is designed to ensure that the integrity of the decision making process is preserved.

2. Lobbying

2.1 To ensure that the integrity of the decision making process is not impaired, either in reality or in perception, through the lobbying of members who will make decisions, it is important that any approaches by lobbyists are recorded and that any representations made to members form part of the public information leading to any decision. If an approach is received by a member of the Planning Committee, from an applicant, agent or other interested party in relation to an existing or proposed planning application, then the member shall:

Inform such applicant, agent or interested party that, in order to avoid accusations of partiality, he/she is only able to offer procedural advice and that any such person should either write to officers of the Council or write or speak to a member(s) who is not on the Planning Committee. This should not however be taken to mean that members who are on the Planning Committee should not listen to the views that the lobbyist wishes to express.

Complete the standard form provided, and forward this to the Acting Director of Regeneration, Housing and Planning. This will enable a record to be kept of any such approach. This form of record keeping will assist individual members to counter any accusations that his or her decision has in some way been biased or partial.

Where a member of the Planning Committee receives written representations directly in relation to a planning application, (or proposed planning application) the member should pass a copy of the correspondence to the Acting Director of Regeneration, Housing and Planning in order that those representations can be included in the officer’s report to the Committee.

2.2 Members of the Planning Committee should avoid organising support for or opposition to a planning application and avoid lobbying other Members. Such actions can easily be misunderstood by parties to the application and by the general public. Members of the Planning Committee should also not put pressure on officers for a particular recommendation.

So to recap, both the National Code of Local Government Conduct (which councillors on the Planning Committee have signed a form to state that they’ll be guided by in their decision-making) and Wirral Council’s own Code of Conduct state that if a councillor on the Planning Committee is lobbied over a planning application, then the councillor should contact an employee of Wirral Council to report it. Wirral Council’s Code of Conduct makes it clear that this is to the Acting Director of Regeneration, Housing and Planning. The post of Acting Director of Regeneration, Housing and Planning no longer exists since the senior management restructure. However the equivalent officer now would either be the Director of Regeneration David Ball or the Strategic Director for Regeneration and Environment Kevin Adderley.

Last month I made a Freedom of Information Act request to Wirral Council for both a copy of the blank form that councillors are to use to record such lobbying approaches and a copy of any forms submitted over the past twelve months (March 2013 to March 2014).

Despite the 20 day legal time limit for responding to my request expiring five days ago, Wirral Council haven’t (yet) supplied a copy of a blank form. However Wirral Council have stated that covering the period March 2013 to March 2014 it has no records of any forms detailing lobbying approaches to councillors on the Planning Committee.

On the 20th February the Planning Committee decided to refuse planning application APP/13/01375. The Planning Committee’s decision to refuse has since been appealed to the Planning Inspectorate who will reach a decision at some point after 21st May.

Prior to the Planning Committee deciding to refuse the application, the Chair of the Planning Committee Councillor Bernie Mooney received a two-page letter. The letter was sent by Edward Landor Associates who were acting on behalf of the applicant and states “It is requested a copy of this letter is made available to all Committee Members”. The two page letter is below and you can click on each page for a higher definition and more readable image if you want to read it in full.

Letter from Edward Landor Associates to Councillor Bernie Mooney page 2
Letter from Edward Landor Associates to Councillor Bernie Mooney Page 1 of 2
Letter from Edward Landor Associates to Councillor Bernie Mooney page 2
Letter from Edward Landor Associates to Councillor Bernie Mooney Page 2 of 2

This two page letter is clearly lobbying of a councillor on the Planning Committee. If the letter was circulated to the whole Planning Committee it is a letter lobbying every councillor on the Planning Committee. Shouldn’t councillors on the Planning Committee who received the letter have filled out a form recording this lobbying? So why do Wirral Council in response to my FOI request state “Wirral Borough Council can confirm that no such forms have been submitted during the specified timeframe”?

At the start of the Planning Committee on 20th February that made the decision on the planning application referred to above, Councillor Bernie Mooney went through some of the provisions in Wirral Council’s Code of Conduct for planning matters and then said (you can watch a video of her saying this by following the link) “They’re the rules as they stand. So they’re the rules I hope everybody understands them, I don’t think I’ve missed anything out. My job is just to make sure everything runs smoothly and everything is complied with”.

If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people.

Planning Committee approves planning application for houses in Irby by seven votes to five

Planning Committee approves planning application for houses in Irby by seven votes to five

Planning Committee approves planning application for houses in Irby by seven votes to five

                        

Please accept YouTube cookies to play this video. By accepting you will be accessing content from YouTube, a service provided by an external third party.

YouTube privacy policy

If you accept this notice, your choice will be saved and the page will refresh.

Video of Wirral Council’s Planning Committee meeting of the 16th April 2014

The Planning Committee meeting started as usual with her usual spiel about who were sitting around the tables (which considering that everyone had name plates seems a little unnecessary). She said that to her left was the solicitor (Rosemary Lyons) to “make sure everything is done legally” and that the officers (of which there were four) to her left where there to “guide us through our decisions and make sure everything is done appropriately with planning legislation”.

If the Chair thinks the role of the officers to her left is to make sure that decisions about planning applications are made according to planning legislation, then what’s the purpose of having a solicitor too? When every other committee at Wirral Council manages to cope with one legal adviser why does the Planning Committee need five to advise it on such matters?

She then went on to recap the rules on speaking for petitioners and applicants. The only change to usual is that she said, “A ward councillor can come forward and talk upon any item in their ward and they can speak for longer than five minutes but everybody only gets a chance to address the Planning Committee once.”

Until recently ward councillors were under the impression they could address the Planning Committee at any time when a planning application concerning their ward was being discussed. The Code of conduct for Planning Committee meetings and Wirral Council’s constitution have nothing in them about ward councillors talking at Planning Committee meetings. Certainly in the recent past at least one councillor thought they could speak at any time but the Chair told them they couldn’t. The only reference in the constitution to councillors and Planning Committees is that ward councillors can decide that they want a planning application to be decided by the Planning Committee rather than by officers.

The constitution states that any councillor can decide that a planning application is decided by the Planning Committee. The fact this isn’t limited to councillors in the ward the planning application relates to has been misused in the past. With fictional names I’ll give an example.

Mrs Smith is standing as the Labour candidate in Puddleton (a made up ward that doesn’t exist on the Wirral). Unfortunately for Mrs Smith Puddleton has three councillors from a different political party who know she is the Labour candidate in Puddleton. Mrs Smith spots a planning application that she thinks she can get a large petition of residents against it and gain votes of local residents affected by it. As the lead petitioner she will also get to speak against it for five minutes, if a councillor takes it out of officer’s hands and makes sure it is decided by the Planning Committee.

Unfortunately for Mrs Smith it’s over a minor matter and wouldn’t usually be decided by the Planning Committee. The planning officer wants to approve the planning application. Mrs Smith asks a Labour councillor (who doesn’t represent Puddleton) to make sure that it will be decided by the Planning Committee, therefore ensuring it is decided nearer the election and that there will be more media coverage of Mrs Smith’s campaign. The Labour councillor makes sure that this happens, thus making the residents think that Mrs Smith is influential and when the application is turned down a better choice than the existing councillor (also a candidate) which didn’t want it to be decided by the Planning Committee as he/she knew it was part of a party political ploy by Mrs. Smith to gain votes from local residents.

However, going back to the Planning Committee. The minutes of the meeting held on the 20th March 2014 were agreed. Nobody declared any interests and no requests for site visits were made.

The first planning application to be decided was OUT/14/00094: 38 Thurstaston Road, Irby, CH61 0HF: Outline planning application to create 2 No. new residential properties. A Wirral Council officer said that there had been seven letters of objection detailing various issues which she listed. Despite the objections officers felt it was compliant with national and local planning policies and recommended it for approval subject to conditions.

Councillor Wendy Clements said that had Tony Cox not resigned as a councillor that he would’ve attended the Planning Committee meeting and detailed the concerns of local residents. She talked about trees, British standards and asked planning officers about a tree survey.

Matthew Davies replied that there had been a tree survey with the application and it had also been assessed by the Council’s arboricultural officer. He pointed out that some of the trees mentioned by Cllr Wendy Clements were not part of the planning application and that they couldn’t impose conditions on trees outside of the boundary. He said that if trees were damaged outside of the boundary it was a civil matter.

Councillor Wendy Clements said that that was difficult to understand as the existing standard referred to trees on or adjacent to the site. She referred to appearance and amenity issues but accepted that whether it was unacceptable harm was a matter of opinion, but she felt that the way officers had written the report it implied that some harm would result. Cllr Clements passed around photos to show the effect on light on neighbouring properties. She referred to policy HS4 and how the scale of what was proposed fitted into the surrounding area.

Councillor Elderton asked to see the plan, but he pointed out that as it was an outline planning application that the position of the houses was only indicative at this stage. He thought different positions of the houses would be more suitable but stated that it couldn’t be turned down based on the indicative positions as they were only indicative. He asked officers for advice as he was not happy with the proposed development.

Matthew Davies said that as it was an outline planning application that all matters would be reserved and that the plan was only for indicative purposes. He said that if the application was approved then Wirral Council would have significant control over the scale, site, appearance and where the properties were sited.

Councillor Wendy Clements moved refusal on the basis that it would result in a development that was cramped, overdeveloped and that the two dwelling would cause a detrimental change to the area contrary to the guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework and policy HS4 of the Unitary Development Plan.

Councillor Steve Foulkes said that he felt three was feasible on the plot, he asked what the average plot size was for surrounding properties? Matthew Davies replied that the officers felt it was possible to have three dwellings on the plot. Although plot sizes were similar on one site of the application site, they were different to what was proposed on another. Therefore in his opinion it was up to councillors to make a judgement as to whether three could be accommodated taking into account the detail that would be decided at the reserved matters stage.

Councillor Geoffrey Watt seconded Councillor Wendy Clements motion for refusal.

For refusal: Councillor Wendy Clements (proposer), Councillor Geoffrey Watt (seconder), Councillor Simon Mountney, Councillor Eddie Boult, Councillor David Elderton and Councillor Philip Brightmore (6)
Against refusal: Councillor Stuart Kelly, Councillor Bernie Mooney, Councillor Denise Realey, Councillor Steve Foulkes, Councillor Joe Walsh, Councillor Irene Williams (6)

The motion for refusal was 6 votes to 6. The Chair didn’t say how she used her casting vote. However she deemed the motion for refusal to be lost.

There was then a vote on the officer’s recommendation for approval. This was proposed by Cllr Denise Realey and seconded by Councillor Steve Foulkes.

For approval: Councillor Stuart Kelly, Councillor Bernie Mooney, Councillor Denise Realey, Councillor Steve Foulkes, Councillor Joe Walsh, Councillor Irene Williams and Councillor Philip Brightmore (7)
Against approval: Councillor Wendy Clements (proposer), Councillor Geoffrey Watt (seconder), Councillor Simon Mountney, Councillor Eddie Boult and Councillor David Elderton (5)

The motion for approval was won by 7 votes to 5 so the application was approved.

If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this article with other people.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Advertising

Analytics

Other