Concern at chair of planning’s potential conflict of interest

Chair of planning spoke for the cabinet in full council in favour policies on enforcing planning conditions and city development.

County Hall, Cardiff pic: Geraint Rowland

Nerys Lloyd Pierce, the chair of Cardiff Civic Society has written the following letter to Cllr Keith Jones, the chair of Cardiff’s planning committee.

Dear Cllr Jones, 
I am concerned that your recent statements at full council may have led to a conflict of interest with regard to your role as chair of the planning committee.  I would be grateful if you could explain, either in writing, or at the next meeting of the planning committee how you believe that your actions do not constitute a conflict of interest.  

On 28 January 2021 at full council you formally seconded an amendment laid by the cabinet member for the environment on the subject of planning.  The debate was led by Cllr Sean Driscoll who laid a motion which asked for the Council to call on: 

“i.  Developers to ensure that they comply with conditions and section 106 obligations within planning permissions for large new developments. ii. The Cabinet to bring forward a report outlining how the Council’s planning enforcement regime will be strengthened regarding the construction of provisions covered by section 106 obligations, especially community facilities, on new developments. This should include how this will be achieved in the context of both the current Local Development Plan and any replacement plan.” 

You then supported the following amendment which read:  

“The Council calls on: 1) Developers to continue to comply with conditions and section 106 obligations within planning permissions for large new developments. 
2) The Cabinet to bring forward a report outlining progress regarding the construction of provisions covered by section 106 obligations, especially community facilities, on new developments. This should include how this will be achieved in the context of both the current Local Development Plan and any replacement plan.” 

I was surprised that you as chair of the planning committee responded to the debate on behalf of the Cabinet to defend their record on enforcing planning conditions.  I believe it is a fair question to ask whether anyone now who objects to an application at planning committee can be sure that you as chair have not already prejudged the situation in favour of the developer on matters relating to planning conditions.  Planning conditions play a central role in the system.  They are a way of assuring that there is balance between the developer and the community’s needs.  Now future applicants and objectors at planning committee face a chair who has publicly refuted that there is an issue with developers meeting planning conditions.  It could lead an applicant of objector to believe the chair is predisposed not to take the matter of planning conditions seriously, to the detriment of either or both parties.  

I believe that you further compounded the matter by speaking on behalf of the administration in the recent debate in full council on the local development plan.  On Thursday 18 March at full council you seconded a report on the findings of the consultation exercise undertaken on the draft Cardiff Local Development Plan.  The reported was proposed by the cabinet member for strategic planning,

On the matter of future development in the city, the chair of planning should take a neutral position between the views Council’s planning department, which will be developing the plan and bringing forward future recommendations on individual planning applications and the views of the residents of Cardiff.  Having spoken on behalf of the administration in full council, future applicants and objectors at the planning committee may believe that you have already prejudged a case in favour of the council administration.  This is a very important point because the council often brings forward developments of its own and the planning department frames recommendations in favour of projects. So it is important that the chair of planning hasn’t created a conflict of interest by speaking in favour in general of the administration’s position.  Conversely an applicant may in future bring forward an application to the planning committee which is within LDP policy but which is not favoured by some members of the cabinet.  They may be concerned that they are not facing a neutral chair on this matter – having heard him speak publicly in favour of the cabinet’s position on development.  

I would be grateful if you could state whether or not you believe that you now have a conflict of interest as chair of planning committee, having

• Spoken at full council on behalf of the planning department in favour of it’s record on enforcing planning conditions, which now means future applicants and objectors at your committee cannot be sure that you have not prejudged the matter of planning conditions on their particular application
• Spoken at full on behalf of the Cabinet’s position on development in the city, which now means that future applicants and objectors at your committee cannot be sure that you have not prejudged the case before you, should it be a matter the Cabinet or the planning department either favours or disapproves of. 

I look forward to your response, 
Yours sincerely, 

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