“Unpunished breaches inspire no confidence”

At the first full Leicester City Council meeting held this year, Cllr Ross Willmott asked Deputy Mayor Piara Singh Clair “how many breaches of planning permissions have there been over the last 3 years and of these how many cases have we taken enforcement action?”

Cllr Clair then answered in a most unsatisfactorily manner, reporting in a fairly matter-of-factly manner, that of the 2,273 alleged breaches of planning permission there were 206 actual breaches of which only 48 resulted in formal action!

After correctly pointing out how the entire planning process is undermined when enforcement action is not implemented, Cllr Willmott then asked a second question to ascertain “How many breaches of planning permissions were in conservation areas in the city and in how many cases did we take enforcement action?” Cllr Clair replied that:

“…a total of 29 alleged breaches of planning permissions formally reported which fell within the conservation areas, were dealt with in the last three years. Of these all, of the alleged breaches considered potentially actionable were resolved through negotiations without resorting to service of a formal enforcement notice.”

Cllr Willmott countered this outrageous revelation by pointing to a local breach, that took place in a conservation area, that he knew of…

“…where planning permission for a development of a terraced house was refused as overdevelopment by the Council. The developer, who is a developer this is not a domestic you know sort of getting something a bit wrong in terms of how things get built up which does happen, the developer had overpaid for the house at auction, then proceeded with the development, in a conservation area, and has refused to apply for retrospective permission and we don’t propose to take any enforcement action. I think that I would refer this to Councillor Clair and ask him to reconsider and look at whether we ought to be taking enforcement action because it seems again to undermine the very nature of the conservation area status in parts of our city and brings our policies, you know, undermines our policies I think and I think there may be good reasons and arguments but we need to examine that and I would ask him to look at this case in particular.”

Now today, the interim chair of the Leicester Civic Society, Peter Jones, has weighed into the ongoing debate by publishing a letter in the Leicester Mercury that was titled “Unpunished breaches inspire no confidence” (March 13). (This was written in response to the March 8 related Mercury article “Thousands of complaints made about planning breaches in Leicester but action is taken just 48 times.”)

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He warned that the Council’s ongoing inaction “represents a significant threat to the built environment and heritage of the city.” He then added that Cllr Willmott’s concerns had been raised by the Society’s own members, writing:

“Some of our members have also reported planning breaches and been concerned that action does not seem to have been taken against those responsible.”

Mr Jones correctly noted that Tory funding cuts for local authorities were making it harder for the Council to cope, especially “as demand for new development has increased.” Nevertheless, he highlighted “that action” should “be taken where breaches are identified.” On this I would agree.

But what is also needed is a massive influx of funding for public services in all areas of our city; and for that to happen our Labour Council must refuse to carry out Tory cuts, and as the Socialist Party has explained elsewhere, this should be accompanied by launching a city and nationwide fightback against Tory austerity! What is the point of having a labour movement if it refuses to fight?

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