Lewes Forum thread

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Planning Dept Costing Us Money

On 21 Feb 2010 at 8:49pm Local settlement wrote:
Following a radio programme, I took a look at the annual letters from the Local Government Ombudsman to our District Council. What we all thought has been identified by them, as despite being notoriously Council friendly, the LGO has found increasing failt with our planning department, and it is now costing us money in financial settlments. Don't remember that appearing in the Sussex Express. The fault identified in 2009 was with Officers, one of whom failed to prevent 'overdevelopment" due to negligent planning processing, and another (pressumably not the same officer) wrongly advise that an application would be approved, and then reccomended refusal at the planning meeting. Sound familiar?
On 21 Feb 2010 at 9:27pm Sherlock wrote:
Just to make it easier for people to fin d the information about the LGO and Lewes:
On 21 Feb 2010 at 10:41pm Yawn wrote:
wonder when our Councillors might wake up to this. That is my hard earned money that officer failure is wasting, it should come out of their wages. Then they migh be less tempted to make so many mistakes.
On 22 Feb 2010 at 8:51am sashimi wrote:
I am not the greatest fan of LDC or of the local government ombudsman but this is ridiculous. There were 2 complaints settled with ex gratia payments one of £200 and one of 500.
On 22 Feb 2010 at 10:11am Sherlock wrote:
What I was thinking sashimi - that's why I thought people might want to look at the LGO site.
On 22 Feb 2010 at 12:35pm Geoff wrote:
I am glad that you both have 700 to spare! Our Council hasn't (neither have I) When you investigate LGO activities you need to look at context. Firstly, this is not real compensation in the terms of a normal legal case, that rectifies damage caused. it is only compensation for 'time and trouble' 500 is a lot of trouble indeed caused by LDC. And remember the injustice has not been rectified, (too late in both these cases) . Many, many Councils have never been forced to make an award. Believe me LDC will have spent a lot of time trying to defend, diminish and belittle the complaint, and the complainant because making a settlement is not only the last resort of the desperate, but your Local Government Association colleagues all get to know about it, also in the knowledge of how much the system is otherwise tipped in a Council's favour. Very embarrasing at the LGA shin digs. Even MP's are increasingly concerned by LGO and LGA activity. Have a word with Norman Baker MP. The complaint will have used up the time of the highly paid Chief Executive, and these are only the costs associated with someone bothered to complain at all. Many of us don't waste our time, so hats off to the two people who did, and succeeded. You should take a look at the Local Government Ombudsman Watch site, where you will discover that in LGO terms this is a large sum. The LGO is notoriously biased as it is staffed almost entirely of ex Council employees. Previously there have been no awards demanded of LDC, and you will also note from the document that complaint response time from LDC had risen inexplicably by almost 50%. This is very embarrassing, and is usually considered a worrying sign.
Oh, and Im no Tory voter, in case you were wondering. They are much too dim to try and capitalise on the political implications of this actual recorded problem about actual services and actual financial loss.
However, depending on how they handle it, there is a potential whopper of an LDC fiasco going on at the moment, that may result in their being taken to court. Councillors are currently dealing with it, so watch this space.

On 22 Feb 2010 at 1:04pm Investigator wrote:
Geoff - interesting what you say. I worked for the Parliamentary Ombudsman for a time and the same accusations - biased towards the civil service - used to be made about them. You don't have to believe me, but I can tell you that was far from the truth. I did some joint work with LGO as well and found they had the same attitude: objective investigations with no bias for or against either side. Another issue is that responding to a complaint doesn't take up 'highly paid Chief Executive' time any more than a complaint against a government department takes up 'highly paid Permanent Secretary' time. They have complaints departments and officers to deal with these things. Personally, I've never understood why people don't make complaints to either of the Ombudsmen more often. Word-of-mouth 'Oh they're biased' doesn't help encourage people. Some of the government departments I investigated - particularly DWP and the Prison Service - accused the Ombudsman of being biased towards complainants.
On 22 Feb 2010 at 3:40pm I dont live in lewes... wrote:
Dear Geoff, Please tell me the current LDC fiasco of which you hint doesn't involve Seaford.
On 22 Feb 2010 at 8:16pm Geoff wrote:
Good news, it doesn't involve Seaford, though I wouldn't be surprised if you had a range of sagas all of your own. :-)
On 22 Feb 2010 at 8:35pm Geoff wrote:
Investigator.I can believe you have had a good experience. I have to confess I have an advantage over you, because I have been able to see 6 complaints made against LDC The malicious, and adversarial line our officers take against residnets has to be seen to be believed. It is hardly surprising that they behaved towards Jenny Mumford in the inappropriate way that they did.. Complaint s reach the LGO AFTER the Council complaints procedure has been completed, and I regeret to tell you that one I have seen was dealt with entirely by John Crawford, whose very expensive time was wasted unsuccessfully defending his officers! He failed to prevent a finding of administrative fault, and had to provide a very begrudging apology to the complainant, two complaints were successful, but were buried in a statistical category called 'Ombudsman Ciscretion" which is not included in statistics (hardly impartial is it?) The other four were initially belittled, but time passed, and it has since become known that they were correct. The LGO made a mistake in failing to investigate properly. As well as costing us money. The complaints I have seen revealed that LDC had improperly considered a planning application, weren't filing documents correctly, and were leaving confidential material where they shouldn't (very topical). I think we all have to be careful about projecting our prejudices onto a situation, and should look at the specific facts and the evidence. The LGO's own statistics reveal how poor their record is, which is why there was a parliamentary investigation into their activities which raised a considerable amount of concern. I note other people on thois site have mentioned LDC being referred to as a Rotten Borough by our neighbouring Councils, and I can also confirm that this is the case from my professional experience working in another area.
On 22 Feb 2010 at 11:17pm Investigator wrote:
Just one point Geoff. I know complaints go to the LGO (as well as the Parliamentary Ombudsman) after they've been through the council (or government department) complaints porcedure. The point I was making is that when the Ombudsman puts a complaint to the council and asks for all the papers and a response, this is dealt with by the complaints section. That is one of their jobs. At the Parliamentary Ombudsman I wrote to the Permanent Secretary of the relevant department putting the complaint, asking for the papers and a response. I received a letter in each case signed by the Permanent Secretary - but I knew from ongoing discussions with the complaints section throughout the investigation that they were dealing with it. Permanent Secretaries and Chief Executives sign scores of letters that have been written by other people who have actually done the work.
On 22 Feb 2010 at 11:37pm Geoff wrote:
Hi Investigator, Yes, but unfortunately that isn't what happened with at least two of these complaints. Indeed when one was sent inmthere wasn't even a proper complaints procedure. That began to emmerge when it became apparent to residents that one didn't exist. Lindsay Frost wrote a letter, in response to one official criticism, saying that rather than improve the way that complaints were handled...they should change the complaint procedure! John Crawford was personally responsible for writing a very rude document to the LGO which I have seen, that was wholly unprofessional. From what I understand he is still dealing with the fall out, and the Information Commissioner, because he accidentally released it to a local resident (which is why many of us now know about it) He got his knuckles rapped by the LGO. Since then both the LGO, and the Council have been forced to re-write their confidentiality policies, but sadly, only a couple of weeks ago LDC breached theirs yet again by accidentally giving out a restricted e-mail to someone in the response to a letter. Oh, and you are right to say that the LDC CEO signs lots of letters, of course. One that I have seen in the course of my snooping around was a letter sent from his office that had obviously been written by a secretary who did not understand dictation. It was all in the third person referring to the recipient throughout, as if the letter was about them, not written to them. Hilariously inept. LDC also has a countywide reutation of taking weeks on end to reply to the simplest of letters, in contradiction to their own response time policies.
But the real issue here is that the LGO have identified fault that is so bad, the Council have unusually been forced to compensate two residents for their time and trouble. How much is it going to be next time?
On 23 Feb 2010 at 8:20am Investigator wrote:
Thanks for a very interesting exchange, Geoff. I think we can agree that LDC need to get their act together.
On 23 Feb 2010 at 8:32am Dave Hedgehog wrote:
I also think we can agree Geoff needs a hobby!
On 23 Feb 2010 at 11:30am Geoff wrote:
I think we can, Investigator. Most people who impartially scrutinise what LDC officers are doing come to the same conclusion.
Mysterious 'Dave Hedgehog" you seem to think I need a new job. I can however confirm that my hooby doesn't include reading all the way through posts on a subject I am not interested in. :-)
On 23 Feb 2010 at 12:10pm Wall Watcher wrote:
Well said Geoff.
The good news is that the CEO retires in a few months (2nd July I think). I'm hoping that the diggers that are shifting soil about on the Lewes House site are preparing his grave!
On 23 Feb 2010 at 5:44pm Annette Curtin-Twitcher wrote:
They are certainly lax in handling confidential material.
Some years, a friend's employers erected a hideous stainless steel flue up the side of the listed building she worked in. She was understandably reluctant to do anything about it, so I said I'd check if it was legal. No listed building/conservation area application had been made and and I asked the planning apparatchik to go and sort out this breach. He declined, saying it hadn't been reported in writing.
Having been assured that any such report would be confidential, I faxed him a letter. He duly visited the premises, flapped the file open on the counter and my name and address were clearly visible to my friend! Imagine if that had been some fierce builder chappy?
The same officer, responsible for the preservation of the town's historic centre, told me that even if he walked past a breach of listed status every day, he would not take action until it had been reported in writing. What a loon.
On 23 Feb 2010 at 6:08pm Remind Me wrote:
What is the purpose of a conservation officer?
I contacted the old conservation officer several times (about an illegal change in a private property) and he choose to ignore my letters. So when the new conservation officer came into post, I contacted them too and they advised that as the change had occurred over 4yrs previously, they could not do anything now as too much time had lapsed.
On 23 Feb 2010 at 6:28pm Dave Hedgehog wrote:
Is it true LDC Planning Dept once invaded Iraq looking for WMDs', the swines! Also didn't they cheat on the lovely Chery Cole as well, and also is it true that LDC Planning Department once invaded Poland?! The bare faced cheek of them!
On 23 Feb 2010 at 6:30pm Freddie Starr wrote:
The LDC Planning Dept ate my hamster!
On 24 Feb 2010 at 1:17pm LTR wrote:
I think it is worth pointing out (as I watch the news) that Stafford Hospital was being regularly inspected and approved by numerous regulatory bodies, despite everyone using the hospital knowing that their were serious problems. It is now acknowledged that all those regulatory bodies were wrong, and service users were right.
Lewes has an increasing number of actual service users, who have had actual experience of LDC Planning and they know that it is dysfunctional. Recently Lindsay Frost has been forced to apologise for his department's failure to understand that you need planning permission to install plastic windows in a Conservation Area . (do we even have the long overdue Conservation Area report yet?) I think we all understand that plastic would not be allowed, especially since this mistake is recorded as having occurred at least once before. I understand that one Councillor has suggested that LDC planning should pay for the plastic to be replaced with wood, but I doubt that this would now be legal because it was the Council who supported plastic. A bad mistake that has cost LDC Planning nothing, but has left yet another group of people let down,and frustrated, and the notion of LDC Planning protecting the Conservation area as laughable.
On 24 Feb 2010 at 1:19pm Peter Gardiner wrote:
Geoff, don't hide behind a web name, tell us who you are. And thank you Dave Hedgehog for putting it all in perspective.
I rebut the suggestion that Councillors are 'not on the case' as I hope this response will show you. Nor do I think the nastiness, to use a euphemism, in this thread is justified.
Apologies for this long reply. I don't usually respond to the Lewes Forum threads, but let's summarise what Geoff is complaining about re Planning.
Seven LDC cases are reported on in 2009 by the Ombudsman.
Five complaints were all "closed on the grounds of insufficient evidence of maladministration causing injustice". You don't point that out, Geoff.
On one of the two remaining, the Ombudsman found no fault in the way the application was dealt with, but that said it would have been desirable for the Council to have warned the applicant of the likely outcome. While that is true, it is often not actually possible. The case officer does not know in advance what the decision of the Planning Applications Committee will be - and nor should he/she. The Committee is required not to predetermine cases, though members may have a predisposition. Councillors on the committee are advised that they must have an open mind until the committee meets, as they may be presented at committee with new information.
No officer fault there then.
The last one was a decision made by a Planning Inspector, not by an officer or by the Planning Applications Committee. In addition to what Geoff has already said the Ombudsman says, and I quote:
"Imposing a condition about the level of the development would have been possible at this stage but there was no evidence it (i e the condition) was considered. However, I could not conclude that the outcome (on a sloping site) would have been different if the planning application had been dealt with properly."
So that is one in about a thousand cases dealt with by LDC each year in which the Ombudsman suggests we need to modify what we do. While the Ombudsman upheld the case (and in future LDC needs to 'show evidence' of a condition being considered), the outcome would not have been different. £500 was paid to the complainant, for the reason you describe.
So even in this case the Planning Inspector's decision (not an officer's) would not have been different.
I can also give you information for the year just ended, which may help readers. There were 954 planning decisions in 2009. One complaint was taken to and resolved by the LDC complaints committee - so that is about 0.1% of the applications being taken for consideration by the complaints panel. None have gone to the Ombudsman in 2009. There is one outstanding decision from 2007/8 as yet unresolved by the Ombudsman. Can I ask you, Geoff, if you are going to praise LDC this year?
I would add that LDC has an excellent record in three other areas of feedback that I review: Feedback from Lewes Area focus group (90 people randomly selected) was positive about the planning website and no other adverse planning comments; the Coastal Area focus group gave only positive remarks about planning. The Planning User Group tells me that LDC is better than neighbouring authorities - they are a critical bunch, and I take their view seriously. Finally LDC have very few applications going to Planning Inspectors for decision on appeal as compared with other councils. This saves much expense of a different order of magnitude to the compensation described above.
I don't think LDC planning service is perfect (who is?) and have made comments on the Service Plan, and I ask questions on behalf of residents. I disagree with officers if I think it is justified. I regularly take up cases with officers, as do my fellow members, as is our duty.
I hope the above shows I have reviewed this area, including this last year, and that the nastiness evident in this thread is unjustified. I will not be responding further.
Peter Gardiner, Lead Councillor for Planning LDC
On 24 Feb 2010 at 1:48pm LTR wrote:
Dear Councillor Gardiner It is ironic that I posted my post just as you were posting yours isn't it? There is nothing nasty about the posts above IMO other than that they bring to light the reality behing the statistics. You are clearly defensive rather than impartial. We have all read your letters in the paper, and it is clear that you don't fully understand what is going on. You never will until you start speaking to the people you are supposed to represent, instead of officers. You are a scientist aren't you? I think us 'service users' are called 'a primary resource' Geoff has obviously trawlled through the original documents, in a way that you haven't. LGO letters etc are just political spin, we all know that. The actual complaints are the evidence, so perhaps, given that you represent the people who wrote them, not the Council, you should contact them? I for one would be interested to know what they tell you. Perhaps the person who got the funny letter from John Crawford could publish it, so we can get an idea if the claim is true or not? You talked about nastiness, well, isn't harassinga resident over a protest sign 'nastiness? that isn't just an understandable error.
Your officers seem to be bullies.You will see my new thread asking if leaking complaints about councillors online is legitimate. Geoff probably doesn't use his full name, because like most of us in the town, we know that YOUR officers have been caught out bullying residents as well as Councillors. We are not stupid, it is a small town and since the Jenny Mumford debacle (did you condone that one?) we all started comparing notes...and letters..and documents....
Like Geoff I don't vote Tory either, I vote Lib Dem, and will probably continue to do so in this area. But only because you and your colleagues aren't nasty, repugnant Tories. I want you to do better. I am desperate that you should, but as your post above indicates, you aren't representing me, or other voters, you have just been brainwashed into the biased defence of the actions of your officers, and many people like me are disappointed that you come across as being simply a mouthpiece for the actions of a failing Council. I don't want to see a repeat of eastbourne Borough Council in Lewes!
On 25 Feb 2010 at 12:46am Agog wrote:
Congratulations Geoff. You have hit a bullseye. It is noticeable from the astonishingly ill advised post by Cllr Gardiner that he is blind to the possibilty that you might be right. What a mess! He doesn't even ask for examples of what you refer to. it's an 'I am right, you are wrong' standpoint. No shades of grey. What is funny is that he is most obsessed with who people on this website are! Accusing you of hiding behing a psuedonym. Just like Merlin Miilner does!!! (no offence merlin, I sympathise with you) It doesn't seem to occur to him that everyone on here could be Lib dem supporters,, people in Greenland, or children. Totally crackpot. If it was that inaccurate, he would have ignored it.
On 26 Feb 2010 at 12:25am Betrayed by LDC wrote:
Mr Gardiner,
You may not be responding, but I hope you are reading these viewpoints as they reflect the viewpoints expressed by members of the public in the Lewes district.
Please wake up and realise that the officers in your council are making a fool of you in public. Do not believe everything you are told; study, and investigate for yourself, the legitimate concerns raised by the public.
On 27 Feb 2010 at 3:48pm Geoff wrote:
I am a little confused as to why Cllr gardiner should pick on me. If he would like me to post details, or evidence about what I have written, i would be glad too. Unlike Council Officers, i prefer to rely on fact, not statistics. We all know what can be done with those.
It seems to me, to be charitable to Cllr Gardine, that her doesn't seem to understand that his reality, is different to everyone elses.He obviously has never made a complaint to LDC Planning dept. so isn't really in a position to guage the respose that residents get when they have done so. Of course officers will seem wonderful to him, they are hardly going to admit to their 'boss' what is going on. and be rude and discourteous.. It is a common psychological phenomenon for people to seek to confirm what they want to believe, and instead of reading original documents, and speaking to real service users about their complaints and the way they are handled, Cllr Gardiner is unfortunately falling into that trap.
The fact is that LDC is known in other authorities as a Rotten Borough for a reason, and we need to find out why that is, and remdy it. Not write thin denials on a local website.. To residents the probelm is pretty obvious because they have joined together in numerous ways and that has been an enlightening experience. especially given the wealth of experience in the town, that Cllr gardiner seems oblivious too. Cllr Gardiner knows that the legal department was misleading him for years with regard to not meeting with members of the public to discuss planning, so why is he deterined to believe this was the only mistake being made? I have been provided witha document that reveals that at leas one resident raised the issue 4 years before it was finally resolved. Indeed the problem was denied, It didn't exist. Everything was fine and rosy, nothing improper gong on at all..... Yes we do all make mistakes, which is why officers should just deal with any that are brought o their attention, instead of denying them, and then attacking residents for complaining. Jenny Mumford is a classic example, as she didn't even make a complaint, Just made a n innocuouse general comment. As Cllr Gardiner hasn't ever commented on that, we can only pressume he sanctioned and condoned this improper harassment.. Perhaps he can explain his actions?
Cllr Gardiner knows that officers have low regard for residents, and make derogatory remarks about them, and due to their sloppy attempts at keeping that behaviour under wraps, everyone else knows it too. It is embarrassing to read the denials, and hardly inspres residents, does it?
On 27 Feb 2010 at 4:04pm Annonimouse wrote:
Mr Gardener, Geoff is not hiding behind a web name. His name's Geoff, can't you see that !!!!!!
On 28 Feb 2010 at 9:45pm Ed Can Do wrote:
Mr Gardiner's refusal to ever admit he's wrong about something or listen to the views of people he doesn't already agree with is hardly news though is it. The man has demonstrated time and time again that he considers the opinions of the voting public far less important than his own. The sooner the guy gets pensioned off the better frankly. It's just a shame we'll all have to pay his pension...
On 28 Feb 2010 at 11:01pm Dave wrote:
Councillors don't get pensions,so you're spared that expense.
On 1 Mar 2010 at 2:27am Yawn wrote:
Bingo. You've actually silenced Gardiner for once. that must be some kind of record. love the stuff about the complaints procedure on the other thread. hard to know wether to laugh or cry.

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