Audit finds 619 planning enforcement cases with no recommended action logged

  • Labour councillors secure agreement for a full internal audit review of Barnet Council's planning function
  • Issue to be debated at Extraordinary Council Meeting on 4 April, following Labour request

An internal audit report into the operational effectiveness of Barnet Council's planning enforcement function - run by Capita Joint Venture, Re Ltd - has found that investigations into alleged breaches of planning control are not being completed in a timely manner.

The report, which was discussed at Audit Committee on 30 January, highlighted that 619 of 3,168 planning enforcement cases did not have a recommended action logged on the case management system.

Of those 619 cases, 307 (50%) were greater than 6 months old, and 175 (28%) were greater than 1 year old.

The list of 3,168 planning violations, which runs to 145 pages, was published at the November Council meeting and highlights that the majority of cases showed 'no further action' and the cases were closed.

The list also shows that 167 cases that are still marked 'open' have a recommendation to authorise enforcement action, and of these 83 date back to 2015, and 13 date back to 2014.

A Full Council question related to the list of violations from Conservative councillor, Brian Salinger to the Leader of the Council in November asked: "Would the Leader instigate an inquiry into the enforcement service, which in my opinion is currently not fit for purpose?" The Leader refused to institute an inquiry but said he would report back to Full Council.

Following the discussion at this week's Audit Committee, Labour councillors have secured agreement that a full internal audit review into the Council's planning function would be undertaken.

Labour councillors have also requested an Extraordinary Council Meeting (ECM) to discuss the issue, which the Mayor has agreed to hold on 4 April.

In their request for the ECM, they cite two recent high profile cases where developers flouted planning rules: the first in Vivian Avenue, NW4 where the unauthorised work resulted in damage and a sinkhole to the neighbouring property following a demolition without planning permission; and the second, in The Burroughs, NW4 - The White Bear - where historic buildings were demolished without permission. In both cases no further action is being taken by Re. Ltd on behalf of Barnet Council.

Re Ltd is contractually expected to serve enforcement or breach of condition notices within 90 working days of receipt of a complaint if the breach is not resolved or an appropriate application for consent has not been received, and enforcement action is considered expedient.

Labour's Audit spokesperson, Cllr Kathy Levine said: "It is very upsetting for residents who are affected by neighbouring developments that have breached planning conditions.

"As a member of the Chipping Barnet Area Planning Committee I know that councillors on the committee put a lot of effort and time into site visits, reading the reports, discussing applications in detail at the committee and then putting conditions down. It is maddening after all this when people then don’t comply and there is no follow-up enforcement action from the Council – and we can see that from these reports we have.

"It is also a reputational issue - if Barnet gets a reputation for being lax then we will get even more problems. We need to protect our Borough."

West Hendon Councillor, Adam Langleben, who initiated the request for an Extraordinary Council Meeting, said: "Tory Barnet seems to have become the Wild West of planning in our city. The Tories have failed in their obligation and duty to act as Sheriff in regards to enforcement of planning law. Cowboy developers should not be welcome here.

"A number of developers feel confident in their ability to flout regulations as Barnet has become synonymous with soft touch enforcement. Properties like the historic White Bear pub are even demolished without permission and the Tories consistently fail to act! Labour take the duty of protecting our built environment seriously, we would clamp down on flagrant abuses of both the letter and spirit of the law."

Ends.

Notes:

1. For a copy of the internal audit report on planning enforcement see:

http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/b29009/Addendum%20Report%20to%20Item%207%20Internal%20Audit%20Exception%20Recommendations%20and%20Progress%20Report%20Q3%201st%20Octo.pdf?T=9

2. A sample of 25 cases selected by internal audit for testing showed that 12% (3) were flagged as "action not being taken in a timely manner" - one case had a six month gap between the start of the investigation and the decision to take no further action; one case had eight months between the case opening and a site visit; and for one case it appeared no action was taken for a year, with three months between refusal of planning permission and the delegated report being written to authorise enforcement action.

3. Council Question No. 9 from Cllr Brian Salinger asking for an inquiry into planning enforcement:

http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/b28632/Appendix%201%20to%20the%20Minutes%20-%20Supplementary%20Qs%20to%20the%20Leader%2001st-Nov-2016%2019.00%20Council.pdf?T=9

4. The full list of 3,168 planning violations published at November Full Council:

http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/b28505/Questions%20to%20the%20Leader%20-%20Response%20to%20Qn%209%2001st-Nov-2016%2019.00%20Council.pdf?T=9

5. Notice of the Extraordinary Council Meeting called by Labour councillors:

http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=162&MId=9225&Ver=4

For more information contact:
Cllr Kathy Levine: cllr.k.levine@barnet.gov.uk
Cllr Adam Langleben: cllr.a.langleben@barnet.gov.uk
To contact the Barnet Labour Group: 020 8359 2568

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