Last July, like many Plumstead residents who had objected to yet another bookies on Plumstead High Street, I was dismayed that William Hill had won their appeal for change of use for the old Barclay’s Bank building. How did this happen? I was horrified that the reason why this had gone through was because, in the words of the Planning inspector the Royal Borough of Greenwich demonstrated ‘clear, abject and repeated failure’ to provide evidence to the Inspector despite three email attempts. So costs were to be awarded to William Hill. Where the planning inspector had failed to get a response from the Royal Borough of Greenwich, would I be more successful? I could only try. So on the 12th July, I emailed Cllr. Thorpe to find out the amount of costs that were to be paid to William Hill. Secondly, if this amount was going to be coming out of the Council Tax that I along with other residents will have to pay?
In the reply received on 2nd August from the Asst. Director of Planning & Building Control, I was informed that the cost schedule had not been received and it was hoped that ‘this clarifies matters’. No it did not. Although I had appreciated the apology for the ‘number of weaknesses in our processes’. What I would normally have expected was a commitment to provide this information when it became known, as well as an answer to my second question – is this coming out of council tax money?
It was holiday time so I left it a whole month before I tried again on 4th September. In my email to Cllr Thorpe I asked again for the costs schedule data plus information about what active steps are being taken to address the admitted weaknesses in the planning processes. And to ask when were these steps going to be made public. A prompt reply from Cllr Thorpe came the following day saying that he had nothing further to add to the previous reply and ‘As far as I’m aware, the costs judgement still has not arrived.’ Naturally the obvious reply would be to suggest, as I did on 6th September, that ‘rather than relying on your awareness, that you make the necessary inquiries to confirm the status of the costs judgement.’ Cllr. Thorpe is Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Sustainability and his total annual allowance is £43,714 plus travel and subsistence for out of borough trips.
My persistence was rewarded, because on 14th September I received a reply via the Asst. Director of Planning and Building control, giving me further information about changes made in the department to introduce ‘a number of checks around appeals and how we defend the decisions the council makes’…’a more comprehensive monitoring systems’… ‘quality checking of cases put up to the planning inspectorate’… and the department is in‘…the process of up-dating our retail surveys’. Oh yes and the cost award to William Hill – £7843.81 (incl. VAT). I still would rather like to know if this cost award is coming out of council tax payers’ pockets, but perhaps it is more important for Royal Borough of Greenwich to be sensitive to all residents’ concerns about service delivery within the Planning and Building control department – not just mine. Particularly as I understand that consultants are being brought in to assist this failing department @ £45 per hour. I wonder who is going to end up paying for them? I look forward to a full comprehensive briefing available to all residents. You never know that is perhaps something I might suggest – again.