LAMBETH WARNING ON PLANNING CHANGES……EX-COUNCIL EMPLOYEE AMONG FIVE FOUND GUILTY OF ‘EFFECTIVELY STEALING’ COUNCIL HOMES
In February 2016 the government asked for comments on the implementation of planning changes in England and Wales which will inform the “mechanics” of how measures set out in the Housing and Planning Bill will work.
In its formal response, Lambeth council have raised several areas of concern including:
• Planning application fees
• Permission in principle
• Brownfield register
• Neighbourhood planning
• Local plans
• Changes to statutory consultation on planning applications
Although Lambeth council agree that fees should be increased in line with inflation, it believes penalising underperforming authorities would mean they would lack the resources to improve their service and may focus solely on timeliness rather than quality.
Lambeth has asked the government to reconsider ‘one size fits all’ planning fees, arguing that in London, planning applications for even small-scale development can generate considerable public interest and require many hours of officer time, not covered by the current fee system. The council says that any ‘fast track’ service should be set locally rather than nationally.
The council opposes the idea of brownfield land registers being used as a means of granting Permission in Principle (PiP) for housing, warning the proposal contradicts the sustainable development objectives set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.
The council would have less ability to fully assess the impacts of developments and other critical strategic aspects of plan-making – such as land for employment, infrastructure planning, discussions with neighbouring authorities–would become of secondary importance to the detriment of economic growth, the quality and cohesiveness of communities.
Lambeth adds that the proposal will result in consultation fatigue and confusion in communities, who will have to be consulted on local plans, neighbourhood plans and now brownfield registers on an annual basis while at the same time making it harder for local people to comment on detailed plans – technical consents.
The council warns of public disengagement from planning, reinforcing the ‘usual suspects’ scenario whereby a small number of well-resourced individuals tend to dominate the process. It is completely unrealistic to expect harder-to-reach groups to keep up with this level of engagement. This has significant negative implication for equality and fairness.
A council spokesman said: “ We have expressed, in detail, our grave concerns about the government’s proposals, not least because many of them are simply not workable in London with its complexity, density and pressures on land.
“Sensible, coherent planning means making sure that sustainable communities rather than ghettoes thrive, where jobs, schools and transport infrastructure is integral to releasing land for development and where local people have a real say in how their neighbourhood is shaped.” (Source: Lambeth council press release)
EX-COUNCIL EMPLOYEE AMONG FIVE FOUND GUILTY OF ‘EFFECTIVELY STEALING’ COUNCIL HOMES
Five fraudsters who dishonestly obtained council homes have been convicted for their corruption and deception.
A jury at Inner London Crown Court found four defendants guilty of committing housing fraud against Southwark council. One former employee was also convicted of dishonestly processing homeless housing applications for corrupt payments.
One female defendant, who has a degree in criminology and is a former homeless caseworker, was found guilty of misconduct in a public office.
She had been the caseworker for at least 24 cases which contained fake documentation and abused her position as a council officer by processing bogus applications which should never had been granted, between 2003 and 2005.
The other four applicants also on trial were found guilty of obtaining services by deception. Each had been granted a secure tenancy in Southwark having made fraudulent applications to Southwark council for homeless housing, all assisted by the female caseworker.
The bogus applications that the caseworker processed contained an astounding variety of false information and documentation, including: false signatures, false birth certificates (for children that did not exist), false UK and foreign passports, false home office documentation, false wage slips, fake bank statements, fake child benefit letters, and false national insurance numbers.
The female caseworker used her knowledge of the housing legislation to ‘prove’ homelessness when in fact each application should have been refused.
Many of the dishonest applicants processed by her did not have the necessary immigration status in the UK entitling them to public funds and local authority housing. Some of them were unlawfully in the country at the time they made their applications.
The jury only took around 17 hours to reach their decision. Sentencing for all five defendants is listed for 4 May at Inner London Crown Court.
The council has introduced significant measures including document scanners and credit checks to further prevent such fraud.
In addition, a first of its kind, the ILATCH tenancy checker is a web based anti-fraud prevention tool which works very simply by inputting a postcode and selecting a property, to show if the property is a part of council stock or if it is private, so prospective sub-tenants can validate a property before they hand over any deposit and avoid being duped.
The investigation continues into outstanding dishonest applicants.
Southwark’s cabinet member for finance, modernisation and performance at Southwark council Cllr Fiona Colley said: “What these people have done is effectively stealing council housing from those who need it.
“I am delighted that these fraudsters will be punished, sending a strong message to any other would-be criminals out there.
“We will now put our energies into getting back the homes our residents so dearly need, and the taxpayers’ money which was stolen from the public purse.” (Source: Southwark council press release)