LETTER: Planning officers here to tell it straight

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Though I don’t share his politics, I have often agreed with Steve Rush’s common sense views printed in this paper, but in last week’s “As I See It” he got it hopelessly wrong.

He praises local councillors for turning down the latest large-scale housing development proposal, this time on land at Henthorn, saying they had found the reasons for refusal that their professional planning officers (who had recommended approval) had “failed to spot”.

He says the planning officers are “intent on finding ways to pass large-scale developments as opposed to finding ways to fail them” and suggests “as we pay these officers’ wages” they should be working harder to reflect local opposition.

He seems to suggest they are not doing their job, but has a very cock-eyed notion of what that job is. The truth is, they are doing their job and doing it well.

They are not employed as “yes men” (or women) to kowtow to councillors and tell them only what they want to hear. Neither are they employed to dream up non-existent reasons for refusing plans simply because they are unpopular.

These professional officers are there to provide objective advice to councillors on whether an application meets nationally set-down planning criteria. If there are no valid grounds to refuse a planning application, then the presumption is it should be granted.

Planning officers, unlike councillors, do not need popularity, but Steve is wrong to lambast them for telling it like it is, however unpopular “it” might be. That, Steve, is why “we pay their wages”.

To then suggest they did a poor job of fighting the Co-operative Estates appeal against refusal for 80 houses at Whalley is just adding insult to injury. Remember, the planning officers recommended approval of that scheme because in their professional opinion there were no valid grounds to refuse it.

It was the councillors who chose to ignore that advice and “found” some grounds for refusal. Was anyone really surprised when the Government Planning Inspector ruled the officers had been right in the first place (as reported on the front page of last week’s Advertiser)?

Now the councillors have again heard their officers’ professional and objective advice on Henthorn and again chosen to side with local public opinion. As councilors, maybe that’s their job, but it is absolutely not the officers’ job. I believe the developer has already lodged an appeal, so here we go again.

I don’t know if Steve keeps up with the pop charts, but maybe he should hear Paloma Faith’s recent hit... “Do you want the truth, or something beautiful?”