A councillor has resigned after saying her faith in Lichfield District Council as an organisation doing the best for local residents had been destroyed by planning chiefs being allowed to open the door for inappropriate developments across the city.
Cllr Joanne Grange was elected to represent the Conservatives in the Stowe ward in February.
But her resignation less than six months later comes after proposals for a new 4,000 sq ft house to be built in place of a 900 sq ft two-bedroom bunglaow on Gaiafields Road were approved at a meeting of Lichfield District Council’s planning committee.
In a letter to Conservative council leader Mike Wilcox, Cllr Grange said the decision flew in the face of the local authority’s own planning guidelines and made a mockery of the strategic vision for the region drawn up by the controlling Conservative group – and confirmed the move had left her with no alternative but to stand down.
“The decision made last night is an open door for inappropriate development across the district which will eventually destroy our city rather than delivering the strategic aim of providing ‘clean, green and welcoming places to live’,” she said.
“I have enjoyed my short time as a councillor, but my faith in Lichfield District Council as a democratic organisation that wants to do the best for its residents has been completely destroyed by this decision, and I am not prepared to compromise my own principles and to be associated with it.
“The Lichfield District Council Strategic Plan details that by 2020 ‘new homes, office, retail and manufacturing spaces will be built or developed in line with our Local Plan and planning guidance’. I believe in this vision, and firmly believe that this is a good priority for the council to have.
“The strategic plan also explains how ‘a council that is fit for the future’ will make ‘good decisions based on facts
– my view is that good decisions should also take account of precedents, be consistent and predictable, and be based on doing the right thing, rather than simply protecting the council.
“After all, what is the point of a council if it is not doing the right thing for its residents?
“Last night I attended the planning meeting where permission was granted for a development following limited debate, the planning officer making mistakes in the answers to questions and despite the proposals being contrary to many of Lichfield District Council’s own planning guidelines and the outcome being inconsistent with previous decisions.
“The debate that took place completely missed the critical points, focused on irrelevancies and failed to follow up when the planning officer did not answer the questions raised. The presentation at the planning meeting followed a long process, during which eight iterations of plans were necessary as a result of missing information, errors and inconsistencies.
“The planning department were accommodating, to say the least, in facilitating changes and from the start seemed intent on pushing through these proposals.
“The impact of this development on the lives of residents cannot be overstated.”
Cllr Grange said the decision to “relax” some spacing guidelines meant plans for slit windows in the new property went against the council’s sustainable development guidelines which state that new buildings should aim to maximise sunlight to internal accommodation and outline that “good natural light is an important design consideration.
She also raised issues over the interpretation of height guidelines on new builds and the impact on root growth for a protected tree on the property – and warned the decision set a dangerous precedent.
“Given that this development, following demolition of the bungalow, is effectively a blank sheet of paper, none of these compromises are necessary,” she said. “A good design, in line with planning guidelines, would mean that the residents’ lives would not be adversely affected, the future residents of the development would be able to sit in rooms that had natural light and the protected tree would be safe.
“I could continue and detail exactly where the decision is inconsistent with previous decisions and exactly which guidelines have been compromised. I could list the errors that continue to exist in the plans and the planning department’s report, and what errors were made in the answers given at last night’s planning meeting. However, as residents we will be pursuing this matter further so it would be inappropriate to provide the details.
“As a result, I now have a severe conflict of interest. It would be inappropriate for me to remain as a councillor when the residents will be pursuing this matter and I intend to be part of whatever action is taken. Hence, I am standing down from both Lichfield District Council and Lichfield City Council with immediate effect.
“This is not a decision I wanted to reach but I am not prepared to remain part of an organisation that makes decisions that are fundamentally flawed and contrary to its own guidelines, ostensibly to avoid the costs of a planning appeal to the detriment of its residents.”
Cllr Grange said the decision showed the council was lacking strategic and organisational direction.
“I would urge the overview and scrutiny committee to undertake the review of the planning department as was discussed at the last meeting. Ig guidelines are not going to be followed, the council should stop wasting taxpayers’ money in writing them.
“I would also urge the planning department to follow its own validation requirements and reject applications which do not provide satisfactory information. Again this would save council taxpayers’ money and may free up some time so that planning officers could attend Lichfield City Council as requested rather than refuse on the grounds they are too busy.
“I would urge that the culture of the planning department be addressed so that consultees are actually listened to rather than being seen as a nuisance, and so that queries are answered sensibly rather than being dismissed by hiding behind ‘professional judgement’, especially where this ‘professional judgement’ contradicts British Standards.
“I would urge that these actions are taken quickly before more poor decisions are made and more residents’ lives are ruined.”
Lichfield District Council has declined to comment on the issues raised by Cllr Grange.