Ashford rejects funding conflict fears

Fears of a conflict of interest over developers paying for extra staff in Ashford's planning department have been played down by the borough council.

Planning and development chief Richard Alderton confirmed that Ashford has brought in consultants paid for by public and private sector applicants over the past year. They work on a flexible arrangement, he added.

But Alderton stressed that there is no direct relationship between the extra staff and the developer who pays for them. "They are managed by the head of development control in the same way as any other member of staff," he insisted.

"They may work on the application of the developer who paid for them or they may replace in-house staff while they work on it. All we commit to is to put the equivalent value of officer time on their application."

RTPI policy development officer Chris Scrafton said it is good that the council has found a fresh approach to deal with resourcing problems. "But the fact that Ashford is in a growth area and there are insufficient resources to deal with applications is very disappointing," he added.

"This should be down to the government."

An Audit Commission spokeswoman said: "As long as externally funded consultants are appointed by the council and are not the final decision-makers on the application, it does not represent a conflict of interest."

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