Questions were asked about the appointment of an attorney paid by Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) to defend his case in a public planning investigation.
Last month an investigation was conducted into the MBC’s decision to deny a petition for 421 homes on land west of Church Road in Otham adjacent to St. Nicholas Church, which developer Bellway was appealing.
The development would have gone next to St. Nicholas Church
However, during a full council on Wednesday, December 6th, it was alleged that the attorney defending MBC’s position had previously provided advice to support serious cost warnings from the planning director in the event that the motion was rejected by council members and to leave the planning call .
The decision to reject the Bellway program contradicted the advice of planning officials, who warned that a lost remedy could cost the agency up to £ 165,000.
In fact, the motion, which city councils objected to over highways safety concerns, was denied three times. The first time was in May by the Planning Committee, but the decision was postponed amid a suggestion that a rejection by an inspector could be overturned on appeal by the developer, which could lead to the council potentially making a payout.
It came back to the committee in June but was again rejected.
Eventually it was submitted to the Policy and Resources Committee for assessment “given the significant cost risks” associated with the rejection, as described in a report from the official.
Cllr David Burton defended MBC’s appointment of their legal representative in the investigation
During a question-and-answer session for members of the public, Chris Wood, secretary of the Chapman Avenue Residents Association, who protested the plans, said, “I want a statement for my benefit and other members of the community about facts dated Bellway Council Revealed in Appeal Inquiry for Land West of Church Road.
“The attorney appointed by the council to argue the case on the denial of permission appeal had previously been paid to provide independent legal advice in support of serious cost warnings by the chief planning officer against the council’s denial decision.
“Who is responsible for approving the appointment and could explain the reasons for the appointment considering that despite the advice of the same attorney who was then employed to represent the case, the council has refused permission three times.”
In response, Cllr David Burton said that the decision to appoint legal counsel for planning inquiries will be made between MBC’s Planning and Legal Department, which is delegated by the full council.
He continued, “I am advised that on this occasion an attorney has been appointed based on her knowledge of proposals and the council’s planning guidelines. This knowledge is essential in order to be able to defend the reasons for refusal as effectively as possible.
“According to the professional code of the legal representative, the representative must act in the best interests of the council and defend the position of the council regardless of the background of the requests.”
Asked if there would be an investigation into how this application and complaint were handled, Mr Wood added, “I would have thought that a different legal team than those providing initial legal advice would buy new eyes in the event of the complaint would have.”
Cllr Burton said he didn’t know if there would be an investigation but said a city council could request a report.
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