Lincolnshire councillor – both district and county – Charmaine Morgan sits on her council’s planning committee. In 2013, she wrote to the Tory then-Undersecretary of State for Planning, Nick Boles, to raise serious concerns about systemic problems with planning processes that were putting lives at risk.
At risk from fire.
Ms Morgan highlighted huge problems with the way that planning applications are assessed and approved:
- that planning committees are not required by law to consult with fire brigade officers on the fire safety of buildings when considering applications
- that this can result in inadequate water supply, lack of space for fire engines to access fire scenes and buildings too tall for firefighters to reach effectively – at least the last two of these were identified as deadly problems at Grenfell Tower
- massive variations in the methodology and quality of planning application assessment between councils
- that even where sprinklers are required by policy, such policy may not be implemented
- that council planning officers say they will not consult with fire brigade officers unless forced to do so by law
That the Tories ignored those warnings is dire enough. But worse still is the fact that even after the terrible toll of the Grenfell fire, the Tories are planning to relax the planning assessment process.
Morgan told the SKWAWKBOX:
I warned the Tories four years ago and was ignored. This email sums up the core issues I identified but it’s by no means exhaustive. There are others relating to the culture within local authorities/the government etc.
In particular when I was unhappy with the response I had from Nick Boles which summarised was a civil service letter telling me what the current planning rules are, there was nowhere I could go.
A transparent and publicly accountable independent whistleblowing system is needed for Health & Safety matters. At present only your local MP will speak to a member of the public, or minister IF you can get access.
At the time and still, Nick Boles was my MP as well as Undersecretary of State with direct responsibility for fire safety. Having initially been supportive of my concerns at a subsequent meeting I was fobbed off with a poor letter that did not address any of the issues I raised.
Those issues are still relevant today. More so when you consider the Government is planning to relax the material considerations of local authority planning departments to support developers later this year in their Housing white paper.
My main concern is that the Government acts now to rectify the planning process issues raised, which are not dependent upon the Grenfell tragedy enquiry, and properly fund the resources to implement the changes needed.
I am currently in discussion with South Kesteven District Council on how they can at least improve their processes until Government change legislation but this is a NATIONAL ISSUE. It is national policy.
The Tories have been conducting a relentless campaign to divert blame by attacking the ‘politicisation’ of the Grenfell tragedy. But this is intrinsically a political issue. The survivors and neighbours understand that – and so does Councillor Morgan.
Because she raised concerns – politically – about intrinsic failings in the system. And she was ignored.
Meaning that national policy – the very essence of politics – has allowed and continues to allow decisions (or the failure to make decisions) that are still putting lives at risk now.
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