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Conservative councillor resigns after admitting her faith in Lichfield District Council as an organisation doing the best for residents has been “destroyed”

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.

Lichfield District Council House

Lichfield District Council House

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?

Joanne Grange

Joanne Grange

“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.

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21 Comments

  1. Nick

    31st July, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    LOL
    The LDC Tories are in disarray while Fabricant’s on the national stage making a mockery of his constituents with his childish behaviour on Twitter. What a circus!

  2. Rob

    31st July, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    Looks like the full-time salaried officers are even more incompetent than the councilors.

  3. John Griffiin

    31st July, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    It’s a close run thing. I feel sorry that someone with the best interests of the area, and with a forensic eye, felt she had to step down – and I say that as a member of the opposition party.

  4. Roy Appleby

    31st July, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    This article brings home the point that the planning dept don’t know what they are doing. All the developments around Lichfield don’t have one single traffic condition applied to them.For example : All Construction HGVs should be made to use the trunk and bypass roads around Lichfield to deliver materials, but because no conditions are applied they just use the town centre road and bring more congestion and pollution.

  5. Flossy

    31st July, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    Great respect for Joanne. Maybe stand at next election. The saga of LDC & so called officials incompetence becomes more revealing & bizarre daily!

  6. Adrian

    31st July, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    Has Joanne Grange got a connection with the application in question as a nearby resident or other interested party?

    What is this ‘severe conflict of interest’ she mentions?

  7. Kathy

    31st July, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    I was at the planning meeting last night and watched in amazement as the planning officer mumbled at high speed whilst whizzing images across the screen. One councillor suggested refusal because the building was too big for the site. A second asked for further clarification and got a repeat of the planner’s rambling speech. A third proposed acceptance because the Council had to be consistent or the developer would appeal. This plea was based on a house in Alrewas being given planning consent for fixed roof windows – seemingly nothing else in this plan was considered important. A shame, because the roof windows in this plan are not fixed and there were many greater considerations. So, there it is Lichfield – put in your plans, change them frequently and keep going until the Councillors hide under their chairs and agree to your plans. As long as there’s consistency nothing else matters!

  8. Ross

    31st July, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    Adrian – having read the resignation letter, it appears that residents will be taking it further and Cllr Grange believes that she could not support this as a local councillor while also representing the council who approved the plans. There’s also a suggestion in the letter that the stance of LDC is at odds with the strategies drawn up to deal with such applications. However, LDC have declined to comment on the situation.

  9. Joanne Grange

    31st July, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    Hi Adrian. I am a nearby resident to the development and objected to it prior to becoming a councillor. I declared a conflict of interest during all LCC planning meetings, left the room while it was discussed and did not take part in the decision making that resulted in five recommendations for refusal by the City Council to the District Council. I am not a member of the LDC planning committee so attended the meeting last night as an observer. My conflict now comes as I will joining whatever action the residents take – I feel it would not be right for me to be part of that action whilst also remaining as a councillor. Hope that clarifies.

  10. nellygb

    31st July, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    More open and transparent decision making shenanigans going on in the Führerbunker. Just how much more totalitarian can this conservative majority council get. “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

  11. David Cameron

    31st July, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    Sadly Lichfield City is on a downward spiral, potholes on every highway and street or lane and the gutter line against the kerb race beggars belief, masses of weeds some two foot in height.
    It resembles Aleppo around this once proud city.

  12. AnnS

    31st July, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    Aleppo. An estimated 33,500 buildings have been either damaged or destroyed. After four years of fighting, the battle represents one of the longest sieges in modern warfare and one of the bloodiest battles of the Syrian Civil War, leaving an estimated 31,000 people dead, almost a tenth of the estimated overall war casualties at that time. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Aleppo_(2012%E2%80%932016)

    Really, David Cameron?

    FYI. Highways are the responsibility of County Council not LDC nor LCC.

  13. Rob

    31st July, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    @David Cameron:
    Highway maintenance is Staffs County responsibility and nothing to do with Lichfield, other than that …………….

  14. LetsGiveItASpin

    31st July, 2018 at 7:46 pm

    Like the friarsgate mess. It’s not just the councillors but the officers …. they have more power than councillors and it’s showing true at lichfield

  15. Philip Allso

    1st August, 2018 at 8:19 am

    @LetsGiveItaSpin…. My experience of dealings with the Environmental officer and the Head of Planning over a local issue in the St. John ward is that you are absolutely right. Their autonomy was unchallengable and they resorted to State legislation whether it was relevant or not. Our local councillor kept her head down and did nothing to help our well supported cause. The planning meeting was also a farce and we all left outraged at our treatment and the lack of democracy. Many of these officers live outside the city (the Planning officer lives in Wallsal) so do not have the attachment that a resident of our city might have. As with Mrs Grange, you feel the impact when it is near your home. Our council and it’s officers lack the humanity that a relatively small city needs. Most business in the city is conducted by the officers and this is normal otherwise the elected council would have to be in session all the time. It seems to me that we have a particularly bad bunch of officers who are largely ‘jobsworths’ and care little for the city past their salary cheques. The LDC and it’s management backup can be seen to have failed its citizens. No area in its jurisdiction is satisfied with their performance and recent history demonstrates this.

  16. Debbie S

    1st August, 2018 at 9:18 am

    I was also was at the planning meeting on Monday night and will be the main property affected by the approval of a 61ft long house along our garden creating a 5m high boundary, breaching primary window spacing and with construction under a protected tree. There were 99 letters of objection and none of the issues raised were addressed.
    The meeting itself was indeed a farce. Councillor’s (the half that turned up) debate and grasp of the salient facts were laughable. Dear developers fill ya boots as no one within LDC has the integrity or backbone to protect this historic city or the family life of its residents.

  17. Soap Distant

    1st August, 2018 at 9:29 am

    The reason Lichfield (and everywhere else in the country TBH) is in such a state is because local authorities don’t get central government grants anymore, thanks to the actions of subsequent Conservative governments, now I know county and district councils aren’t completely blameless here, the situation isn’t going to change until we dump the current shower and get a party that’s willing to actually invest in this country(*cough*Labour*cough*), rather than cutting everything to be bone and wondering why everyone is still struggling

  18. Rob

    1st August, 2018 at 10:13 am

    Throw money at it eh?
    Yeah, that always works.
    FYI Soap Distant, not everyone is “struggling”.

  19. John Griffiin

    1st August, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    It’s called investment Rob, not throwing money. A business term that is supposed to mean looking at the available options, then rationally deciding on the most beneficial use for the stakeholders and/or public. I thought you might need help with understanding it all, you are clearly ‘struggling’.

  20. Soap Distant

    1st August, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Oh, so that’s OK then.

  21. Rob

    1st August, 2018 at 5:55 pm

    You would prefer everyone to be struggling?
    Would that be better?
    Sorry to disappoint.

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