Planning An Intervention ?

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There was a timely reminder this week about just how incompetent Wirral Council’s Planning Department is with the publication of the full Court of Appeal judgment from April in the case Regina (Thornton Hall Hotel Ltd) v Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.

The full citation can be read here

Someone who had read The Times law report contacted us and posed these questions :

Good Afternoon

So yet again, the marquee saga at Thornton Manor has managed not to reach the local press, I wonder why?

The planning permission quashed by the high court, Appeal dismissed with more criticism of WBC and Thornton Manor. It even made The Times on Wednesday!

Are weddings at risk now the Marquees are continuing to operate without planning consent?

Is WBC going to do anything about it?

Is planning permission worth the paper it’s written on (or not written on) should you bother with it if you can just carry on regardless?

All very pertinent we’re sure you’d agree. However could help be on the horizon for our exasperated source as it would appear that they’re not the only one getting increasingly frustrated with Wirral Council’s ineptitude when it comes to planning  issues.

There is another report from earlier this month which once again seems to have bypassed the local mainstream media but potentially has serious implications for local planning.

Indeed a recent contact commented to us :

Any update on the Green Belt? I’ve heard that MHCLG are about to trigger an intervention on Wirral soon due to constant delays and lack of capability.

Could this have been prompted by the following damning report which can be found on the Planning Resource website  ?

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As you can read below the worst of all was, yes you guessed it- Wirral Council! It is interesting to note that under the government’s special measures programme, Wirral Council could have planning decisions taken out of its hands by the Planning Inspectorate if they fall below specified thresholds for the speed and quality of their decision making. And as we can see from the Thornton Manor marquee saga case study above speed and quality is not exactly a strong point ! Never mind at least Wirral Council are top notch when it comes to getting artist’s impressions of planning developments in the local press. It’s just such a shame they never make it through the planning process!…

 

The councils that determined the fewest applications within government time limits up to March 2019

2 July 2019 by John Geoghegan

Eight local authorities are now below the government’s ‘special measures’ threshold for the proportion of application decisions made within the statutory timescales, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Wirral Town Hall: council determined the fewest major applications within government time limits up to March 2019

Under the special measures programme, councils can have planning decisions taken out of their hands and dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate if they fall below specified thresholds for the speed and quality of their decision making.

Authorities that decide fewer than 60 per cent of major applications within the statutory deadline of 13 weeks or 70 per cent of non-major applications within the eight-week deadline face the sanction.

In December 2018, the government announced the programme would continue until 2020.

However, no council has been penalised under the initiative since January 2015, despite many falling under the sanction thresholds.

Last week, the government updated its figures showing how many major and non-major decisions that each English local planning authority determined within the prescribed timescales in the two years up to March 2019.

It shows that a total of eight councils fall below the thresholds for major and non-major decisions: Wirral, Craven, Barrow-in-Furness, Ealing, Wakefield, Stoke-on-Trent, Southampton and Worcester.

In the previous quarter’s data, the two years up to December 2018, a total of ten councils fell below the three thresholds for speed of determination.

The latest data for major decisions shows that Wirral, Craven and Barrow-in-Furness councils are below the 60 per cent threshold (see below).

Wirral Council is still the worst-performing authority in this category, deciding just over than half of its 75 major applications within the 13-week deadline. Wirral and Craven remain below the threshold from the last quarter’s data.

For ‘county matters’ major application decisions, which covers mineral and waste development, Ealing and Wakefield Councils remain below the threshold (see below).

However, both authorities only dealt with one ‘county matters’ major application each over the two-year period.

They are joined below the threshold by Stoke-on-Trent, which only determined two applications.

For non-major decisions (see below), the data shows that Craven, Southampton, and Worcestershire are all below the 70 per cent threshold – the same three councils as the last quarter but with Craven now replacing Southampton as the worst-performing authority.

Out of a total of 1,070 decisions, Craven Council made 65 per cent of them within the eight week deadline.

Last December, the MHCLG announced that designation decisions in the first quarter of 2019 for speed of decision-making would consider the two-year timeframe between October 2016 and September 2018.

Meanwhile, for quality of decision-making, the assessment period would be between April 2016 and March 2019

 

Wirral Council – “The antithesis of good administration “

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Source : Planning Resource

We know we’re all wrapped up in election news but we couldn’t let this simply astonishing story found on the Planning Resource website pass without comment.

Wirral Leaks back stories on the Thornton Manor debacle where marquees where erected unlawfully and allowed to remain on the Green Belt can be found here

We will be doing a follow up story about Thornton Manor and Wirral Council but for now read the comments from Lord Justice Lindblom about how Wirral Council conduct their business and weep. Note his use of the perennial term ‘highly abnormal’ , that in his view the council was ‘the antithesis of good administration’  and his observations on the sheer dishonesty of Wirral Council officials who tried to cover up a catalogue of errors.

We’ve never used the word ‘backhanders’ on this blog before. But we’d be forgiven for having that reasonable belief based on the ‘highly abnormal’ circumstances set out below . What do the people of Wirral think and what’s more WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

The Court of Appeal has upheld a High Court decision to quash a council’s mistaken planning consent for the indefinite use of wedding marquees at a Grade II* listed property in the Wirral green belt and blasted the authority for ‘unlawfully’ attempting to conceal its ‘error’.

Thornton Holdings Limited, which owns the Thornton Hall Estate in the Wirral, applied for planning consent from Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council to erect or retain the marquees as long ago as 2010, said Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Lindblom.

The firm said it needed the wedding venue business to fund the restoration of the registered historic gardens of grade II* listed Thornton Manor.

The council’s planning committee resolved to grant planning permission, but only subject to 10 conditions, the first of which was that the consent would last for only five years.

However, when the permission was formally granted by a decision notice in December 2011, no conditions at all were attached to it, and the marquees have remained in place to this day, Lord Justice Lindblom told the court.

In 2017, Thornton Hall Hotel Limited (THHL), which owns a rival wedding venue nearby, launched a judicial review challenge to the permission.

Under court rules, such challenges must be brought “promptly and in any event within three months.” However, in March last year, High Court judge Mr Justice Kerr exercised his discretion to extend that time limit and overturned the planning permission.

Ruling on Thornton Holdings’ appeal against that ruling, Lord Justice Lindblom, who was sitting with the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, and Lord Justice Irwin acknowledged that the delay in the case reaching court was “extreme”.

But he added: “There can be no doubt that the circumstances of this case, viewed as a whole, are extremely unusual. We would go further; they are unique.”

The judge said that Wirral Council, after the “indisputable error” was noticed, “acted unlawfully in concealing its error. It initially attempted to put matters right by generating a fictitious decision notice and manipulating the planning register.”

He added: “Whether its intention was to reverse its error or to obscure it, the effect of the action it took was only to disguise what it had in fact done.”

The council could have revoked the permission, or issued a discontinuance order, but had shown “no inclination” to follow either course, both of which could have given rise to a claim for compensation by Thornton Holdings.

Another “highly abnormal” aspect of the case was that the council had “actively supported” the challenge to the planning permission.

But the judge said Thornton Holdings “were well aware from the outset that the planning permission had been wrongly issued, and knew precisely what the council’s error had been”.

It had only sought to rely on the 2011 consent when the council began to press for the marquees’ removal.

He added: “We cannot accept that Thornton Holdings have suffered any material hardship or prejudice as a result of the delay in the claim being issued. If anything, the delay worked in their favour, in the sense that it enabled them to take advantage of an unrestricted grant of planning permission that they knew the council had never resolved to grant.”

Dismissing the appeal, the judge said: “This is clearly a case in which the interests of good administration, and indeed the credibility of the planning system, weighed compellingly in favour of the court having the opportunity to hear the claim and, if the claim succeeded, to deal with the council’s error.”

“If, as the council has readily acknowledged, the decision notice it issued was issued without lawful authority, it might fairly be described as the antithesis of good administration.”

He added: “The error was not in the council’s decision-making, but in the statutory notification of the decision made. Yet it vitiated the planning permission, and continues to do so. In short, this simply was not, and is not, the conditional planning permission the council’s committee resolved to grant.

There were, he ruled, “very special reasons” justifying the delay in THHL seeking judicial review and Mr Justice Kerr had been right both to extend time and to overturn a permission which had not been lawfully granted. His decision served both “to undo an injustice and to sustain the public interest.”

“The decision notice misrepresents the council’s decision. If the planning permission were not quashed, this manifest unlawfulness would persist,” he said, adding that, had the committee’s resolution been properly translated into the decision notice, the planning permission would have expired in December 2016.

Were the 2011 consent to remain extant, that would be “inimical to the public interest in a fair, efficient and transparent planning system, in which all participants in the process, including objectors, and also the public, are able to rely on the local planning authority to issue a true notice of the decision it makes.”

Lord Justice Lindblom emphasised that his decision did not set a precedent and had no effect on the requirement that challenges to planning permissions must be brought promptly.

A Planning article examining the potential for errors in the planning decision-making process can be read here.

R on the Application of Thornton Hall Hotel Limited & Anr v Thornton Holdings Limited. Case Number: C1/2018/0793

 

Wirral Leaks Weekly Dispatch #9

Javid letter 354

Mail on Sunday 25/3/18

LOCAL PLANS,WEDDING PLANS – IT’S ALL THE SAME TO THE PLANNING DEPARTMENT (NO F*CKS ARE GIVEN)  

We think it’s fair to say it’s been a bad week for Wirral Council’s planning department. Just to cap it off there was a High Court ruling on the long running Thornton Manor story  A Thornton Huff : Where once again ‘ignorance is bliss’ when it comes to the Green Belt . You won’t be surprised to hear that Mr Justice Kerr ruled that Wirral Council had allowed Thornton Manor to flout planning laws and erect three marquees on the Green Belt by mistakenly making the permission to do so ‘unconditional’. The council only spotted the blunder in March 2017  – SIX YEARS  after permission was granted – like you do. In an unprecedented move Wirral Council apparently “confessed to its error “(!) which prompted the owners of  nearby rival and Mayor’s Ball venue , Thornton Hall Hotel, to make a legal challenge. Press reports say that as Thornton Manor has made wedding bookings up until 2020 that up to 50,000 guests could be affected by the ruling. Mr Justice Kerr stated ” I do not think that the existence of these bookings should override the public interest in the integrity of the planning process”. Little does he know that the public interest and integrity of the planning process seem to be alien concepts to Wirral Council!

We have to say the story reduced Her Ladyship to tears……..tears of laughter that is – as she read that blushing brides had been tempted to hire one of the marquees for their big day with a ‘Say I Do In Choo’ promo, where if they spent £3,950 – which struck us as a bit of a random figure – they would be entitled to a £500 voucher for Jimmy Choo shoes.  Her Ladyship composed herself after her bout of schadenfreude and rather pointedly sniffed : ” I think that prospective brides will find that being Choo-less is the first of many disappointments when it comes to married life “

“DON’T LET THE S*N GO DOWN ON FRANK” PLEADS MATRON

Oo-er Matron! Cllr Moira ‘Matron’ McLaughlin tries to come to the rescue of her adored Frank Field as he came under fire at Friday night’s Birkenhead Constituency Labour Party (CLP) meeting for continuing to write for The S*n .

The Skwawkbox blog reports that a strongly-worded motion of censure was proposed by Birkenhead CLP’s Prenton branch which stated as follows :

Prenton Branch condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the decision of Frank Field to write for Murdoch’s S*n. This not only flies in the face of Birkenhead public opinion and a Wirral Labour Council boycott, it rides roughshod over the memory of those who died or survived the Hillsborough tragedy and were smeared by that rag. It also causes upset to friends and family of victims and survivors.

One Prenton member has cancelled his membership due to Frank’s involvement in the gutter press. The branch feels that this is a clear case of bringing our Party into disrepute.

We call on Frank, to give a clear, unambiguous, public apology, for the hurt caused and to provide an undertaking not to contribute in any way, in future.

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“The writing was almost literally on the wall beyond him” –  pic and caption courtesy The Skwawkbox

A Labour Party member who was present at the meeting told Skwawkbox :

Frank said that he would not be muzzled. He refused to give the requested commitment not to repeat the offence caused and stated that if members didn’t like it, they could deselect him.

He flounced out of the meeting, claiming that he was continuing his surgery at nearby Birkenhead Town Hall. Nobody believed that, as it was nearly 8 pm and his surgery started at 5 pm!

His parting shot was some snide comment about Jeremy Corbyn, but members shouted back at him “thanks for nominating him”, as Field provided the deciding vote, which secured JC’s place on the original ballot!

We remind him of that frequently. If he thought he was being clever at the time, and JC had no chance of winning, look how that turned out.

Read full story here : Labour MP Field censured by Birkenhead CLP for S*n columns

The flouncing , arrogance and snide comments of Frankenfield will be familiar to those who happen to get on the wrong side of the Birkenhead MP . All you have to do is simply not to agree that he is 100% right on EVERYTHING and fail to prostrate yourself in adoration before him and you’re a wild-eyed Trotskyite and/or a mad malcontent. Which brings us round to Matron who gallantly (and unusually) writes in support of her hero in the comments section (Frankenfield had himself had declined to comment to The Skwawkbox) . There’s an interesting spat with local blogger Wirral In It Together. Matron loses – badly (and inevitably). One comment that particularly caught our eye was from Ian Campbell who wrote : “1984 N Wales Euro election Frank FIELDS (sic)  signed a half page in all the 10 constituency newspapers to warn against Ian Campbell the official Labour Candidate LP general Secretary wrote to me to apologise adding Fields has the backing of the Catholic Church and is untouchable.”

This reminded us that we really must get round to that story about Anglican Field’s extensive local connections with the Catholic Church………

ALL WRAPPED UP

You’re telling us that the Wirral Growth Company news emanating from its PR arm Wirral Well Made is absolutely relentless. We understand that this week’s Wirral Globe featured yet another 4 page  wrap around ‘advertising feature’ (costing  £4K +). Why Wirral Council’s ruling Labour administration continues to publish their Wirral View and duplicate spending on exactly the same content in a local newspaper we can only assume is down to arrogance and contempt for council tax payers. Wirral Well Made ‘s Martin Liptrot must be Wirral well made up that having wanting to put the Wirral Globe out of business he now has the financial means to use it as just another Wirral Council media outlet  Indeed Wirral Council now appear to have the local mainstream media all wrapped up. Indeed one reader has kindly sent us an artful representation of what it feels like to be subject to the ongoing media bombardment :

Javid letter 361

And what’s more it would appear that local opposition parties are not able to do anything about it. Whilst we understand the local Conservatives took out their own pre-purdah page in this week’s Wirral Globe (presumably paid for by local Tories and not by local council tax payers) to rerun the usual fare of complaints about consultants, Wirral View , Hoylake Golf Resort , bins and loans it seems to us that despite the high costs these are , politically-speaking , low ticket items :

Javid letter 360

The problem that opposition parties on Wirral now have (and particularly the Tories) is that as a result of their misplaced politesse the big ticket item of institutional corruption involving a small cabal of  Labour councillors has allowed the latter to act with impunity . Consequently this cabal have grown in strength, increased their power and are now acting, somewhat like their mentor and spiritual leader Frankenfield , as though they are “untouchable” . And with a perpetually impotent opposition with few new ideas things can only get worse.

AND FINALLY….

There were a few notable absentees ( including Cllr Louise Reecejones) and the announcement of a couple of retirements at this week’s full Wirral Council meeting. The latter included Cllr John Hale , a former Wirral Council leader from the last century (or was it the century before that?) and outgoing Mayor and former Deputy Leader of  Wirral Council  Cllr Ann ‘Moving Forward’ McLachlan.  Cllr McLachlan always appeared to us to be in a permanent state of denial about the appalling conduct of some of her contemporaries be they Wirral councillors or council officers . Her mantra was always about ‘moving forward’ as if it made all that ‘unpleasantness’ suddenly disappear. Now that Cllr McLachlan is ‘moving forward’ into retirement from politics perhaps she will take time to reflect that sometimes silence is compliance.

 

 

 

 

Public Service Announcement : Parking Fines

Aldi

We’ve received this message from one of our readers:

Hi , I’ve just had notification from Wirral Council Planning that Parking Eye the company that issues parking ‘fines’ for Aldi in Prenton have been operating illegally. Parking Eye have never applied for planning permission for the ANPR? Cameras and/or signage.
Therefore anyone who paid £40 for an overstay should request their money to be returned.
Wirral Council are granting Parking Eye retro planning but no mention of prosecution for illegal operations over the last ten years.
CLAIM YOUR ‘fine’ MONEY BACK NOW

ANPR = Automatic Number Plate recognition. If Parking Eye didn’t have planning permission for ANPR is that a Data Protection breach on the part of Wirral Council?

But then Wirral Council surely wouldn’t let someone operate without planning permission for 10 years would they ?  Of course they would ! As we’ve previously reported on the illegal marquees at Thornton Manor , this would seem to be par for the course when it comes to the impotent  and incompetent Planning Committee. Read the fully story here 

 

A Thornton Huff : Where once again ‘ignorance is bliss’ when it comes to the Green Belt

Thornton Manor

A marquee of distinction

We’d like to thank Heswall Today for their excellent coverage of yet another Wirral Council debacle. Their report , which can be read in full  HERE  states as follows : 

Thornton Hall Hotel in Thornton Hough has applied for a judicial review against Wirral Council that aims to explain and overturn planning permission given in error by the Council that allowed nearby Thornton Manor to erect three large marquees without any conditions.

As reported in Heswall Today, despite the land being Green Belt, the Council decided to give permission to Thornton Manor on the basis that it would last just five years, and that some of the profits generated by the new facilities would be reinvested in parts of the estate considered to be “at risk”. Other conditions included the installation of noise limiters and restrictions on the use of fireworks.

However, for reasons which, the Council says, are “impossible to understand”, the Decision Notice was sent out without any such conditions, and the Council was blissfully ignorant of the error.

When the five years elapsed late last year and planning officers assumed a new planning application would have to be made, Thornton Manor produced the Decision Notice it had received and stated that its terms were the ones it intended to abide by. In other words, the three marquees were here to stay and there was nothing the Council could do about them.

So basically,  the privileged folk who run Thornton Manor have done what the less privileged and long suffering council taxpayers of Wirral would like to do and stick two fingers up to Wirral Council.

Meanwhile equally privileged local hospitality rival Thornton Hall Hotel have issued Judicial Review proceedings because they claim they’re not on a level playing field with their local rival.

However what galls us at Leaky Towers is that whilst the application for the Judicial Review by Thornton Hall Hotel will not be contested by the Council,  Thornton Manor will oppose it. Which means, yes, you guessed it, that it will be Wirral council taxpayers who will once again have to stump up for costly legal proceedings because some numpty at Wirral Council can’t do their job properly and send out a Decision Notice specifying exactly why the Green Belt should not be despoiled by money-grasping opportunists.

We are led to ask ourselves as to whether all of this might explain why Thornton Hall Hotel swiftly withdrew their advertising from Wirral Council’s woeful Wirral View publication and whether the future venue for Wirral Council Mayor’s Balls be left dangling ?