Pickles retracts 'worst performing' Hackney allegation

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has retracted his claim earlier this week that the London Borough of Hackney is England's worst planning authority, saying that he had meant to name the London Borough of Haringey.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles
Communities secretary Eric Pickles

During the debate on the new Growth and Infrastructure Bill in the Commons on Monday, Pickles was challenged by shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn to name an example of a "so-called failing planning authority".

Pickles responded: "I have been more than helpful to those members who have had trouble with planning authorities and I have done my best to move things along, but I am very happy to name the worst, which is Hackney."

However, a correction, issued on Hansard today, says "an error has been identified in the answer given to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on 5 November 2012. The correct answer should have been:

"I have been more than helpful to those Members who have had trouble with planning authorities and I have done my best to move things along, but I am very happy to name the worst, which is Haringey."

Hackney denied Pickles’ claim, saying that by the Department for Communities and Local Government's (DCLG) own data, the council had exceeded all targets set by government. In a letter to the communities secretary, mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe demanded an "immediate apology and a public retraction of this statement in the House so that the record of Parliamentary proceedings can be made accurate."

In the debate on Monday, Benn said that Pickles’ decision to name Hackney was "extremely interesting" given that the government has yet to publish full details on how it intends to judge whether local planning authorities have a track record of poor performance.

Pickles said that the government is working with the Local Government Association and local authorities on how councils will be judged.

A series of tables produced by Planning on the English authorities who suffered the highest proportion of defeats in planning appeals and those that were lowest scoring for determining applications within 26 weeks show Hackney is in fact 21st - out of 25 – of the lowest scoring English councils for determining all applications within 26 weeks. It does not feature in any of the other Planning tables of struggling authorities. Labour MP and former local government minister Nick Raynsford quoted the Planning data in the house on Monday.

The London Borough of Haringey is not named in any of the Planning tables, which are based on Planning Inspectorate and DCLG data.

A DCLG spokesman said a parliamentary question had been tabled asking the department to explain the reason why Haringey had been named as the worst performing council. The spokesman said the department's response would be published in full tomorrow, but the decision was based on the council's performance in determining major applications.

The London Borough of Haringey were asked by Planning to comment but had not done so at time of publication.

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