Thurrock decisions show improvement

Thurrock Council's planning committee has made good progress since a damning report found that it had made "unsound" decisions against officers' advice.

Its standards committee was due to hear yesterday from monitoring officer Tasnim Shawkat about success in implementing 21 reforms to the committee's conduct. These are based on recommendations in independent consultant Chris Collison's report in the summer.

Members have stopped making "perverse" rejections of officer recommendations and changes to its constitution are operating well, Shawkat said. Collison's report found "an absence of mutual trust, inappropriate personal behaviour by councillors and inadequate procedures".

At the time most major decisions were handled by the Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation. But the committee repeatedly overturned officers' advice on minor applications, in some cases allowing green belt development "contrary to policy".

This had raised public suspicion that councillors were "working to alternative agendas", Collison noted. He recommended that they should present written reasons for rejecting officers' recommendations, avoid meeting developers or their agents without a senior planner being present and have compulsory training in planning and ethics.

Thurrock's local development framework also suffered, leaving the borough in danger of failing to plan for sufficient homes. The working group adopted proposals "without adequately stated justification", said Collison.

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