Focusing on the role of elected members in planning decision-making, Transparency International UK said it assessed a sample of 50 English councils and scored them on a scale of 0 (poor) to 100 (meets good practice) on how well they managed risks of corruption.
According to the organisation’s Permission Accomplished report, councils achieved an average score of just 38. Eighty-four per cent of the councils assessed scored less than 50.
Transparency International warned that developers may be able to influence major planning decisions by using gifts and hospitality, the lobbying of elected members in closed-door meetings, and the hiring of serving councillors to help secure development consents.
Pointing to evidence of existing conflicts of interest, Transparency International said it found 32 councillors across 24 of the 50 councils who held "critical decision-making positions in their local planning system" whilst also working for developers.
The organisation said it also found at least 120 councillors had moved between roles in public office and private planning employment in the last decade.
The organisation called for a series of measures to be implemented to tackle the risk of corruption in the local government planning system.
Recommendations include the publication of minutes for all meetings between "councillors, developers and their agents"; rules barring councillors involved in planning decisions from accepting gifts and hospitality; a register of councillors’ financial interests; and a ban on councillors carrying out advisory work relating to their public duties.
Highlighting examples of poor practice around gifts and hospitality, the organisation pointed to a case involving Westminster City Council where the planning committee chair, Robert Davis, was forced to step down after accepting hospitality from developers.
Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, said: “Many will be disturbed to hear that there are those entrusted to decide on major planning applications who also work part-time for developers as their clients.
“Allowing such a clear conflict of interest for those holding senior roles does nothing to address concerns that the planning system is open to abuse. Councillors working for developers in their private time should not be allowed to influence or determine any major planning applications.”
Transparency International UK is the UK chapter of Transparency International, which describes itself as "the world’s leading non-governmental anti-corruption organisation".