Thursday, 6 August 2009

Thames Water and its not-quite-so-urgent planning application - five months on

Those who are familiar with the workings of council planning committees - and I speak as Chair of the local one in Isleworth and Brentford - will know pretty much how they work.

An application is made, consultation takes place amongst those concerned and an officer will produce a report which will conclude with a recommendation either for Approval or Refusal depending on his or her expert opinion based upon the available facts.

At the planning meeting elected members will discuss the report and form their own opinions on the strength of the information presented to them on the night. In doing so they will place much import on the expert opinion of the officer but will, on occasions, see things differently and vote accordingly.

I would like people reading this article, particularly those familiar with the planning process, to consider a completely fictitious scenario. Mr. Bloggs wishes to build an extension to the rear of his house. The proposed extension is hideous, too tall, out of sync with the street scene and will block out all of his neighbour's sunlight. He discusses his application with officers who feel that stringent conditions should be imposed before approval can be recommended. But Mr. Bloggs doesn't accept any of the conditions. He is in a hurry to build his extension because he wants to sell his house.

So when the application comes to Area Committee officers inform members that they should approve this clearly inappropriate development subject to the few conditions that Mr. Bloggs is prepared to accept. They acknowledge that the proposed extension will be the cause of great anxiety to his neighbours, but urge members to approve it and approve it quickly all the same because Mr. Bloggs wants to sell his house. He needs the money.

Anybody who has witnessed a debate at IBAC or any other Area Committee will know that such a conversation would never take place. Our officers, professionals to their fingertips, would urge the Committee to reject the application on the grounds that it was inappropriate, and that the actions of the applicant in refusing to accept conditions were unreasonable. The importance of the development to the applicant would not be a consideration. It would be a dereliction of duty to the neighbouring community were the officers or the members to proceed in any other way under such circumstances.

Now, imagine the applicant is called Thames Water. The date is 4th March 2009. The planning body is the Sustainable Development Committee. The full debate can be witnessed on the webcast by clicking here (you will need to download Real Player from the site if you don't already have it). The applicant, Thames Water, has refused to accept conditions suggested by our officers to protect the quality of life of those residents who will be affected by the proposed expansion of Mogden Sewage Treatment Works. And yet those same officers plead with elected members to approve the application and to do it now on the grounds that the applicant needs to get on with it "urgently".

As we know, after a few fine words had been uttered the majority on SDC cravenly kowtowed to Thames Water and to the officer recommendation to approve. The applicant, uniquely, had been allowed to dictate its own conditions and could now progress with its "urgent" expansion project and make lots more money for its shareholders at the expense of long-suffering residents of Isleworth and Hounslow South.

Odd then that, more than five months down the line, the same applicant has yet to put pen to paper and agree terms!

The reason? Because, emboldened by the unconditional co-operation of the local bureaucracy and the cowardice/gross stupidity of most of the members who took the decision to approve, it now feels confident enough to challenge even the feeble conditions which it had earlier condescended to accept. Comfortable in the belief that the officers will bend over backwards not to bring the application back to SDC for a third time, and that even if they do the members will gratefully adopt doormat status again, Thames is quite shamelessly trying to extract every last buck from a situation in which it probably still can't quite believe its luck.

So it would appear the "urgent" decision taken in March was not really quite so urgent after all. Culture change? Oh yes - believe me - it's coming!


Foxy Foxy said...

Is there any progress on the plan to put up an MRAG candidate at the general election? We've heard diddly squat from Mary Macleod about the whole issue and it's clear she's avoiding the subject, lying low with her friends who voted this disgrace through, the bid question is why and does it have anything to do with the Tory party's donation from Thames Water, was it £50,000?

Or should we all officially back Andrew Dakers who voted for the expansion but has shown signs since that he wants to help the residents?

There's a big community around that plant that might deliver him 2,000 or 3,000 votes which some think could swing the whole election his way. Does the ICG have a view on this or are they tied to some agreement with the Tory party who they are in a coalition with?

Whatever way nothing is stopping MRAG getting involved, we have to do SOMETHING.

Anonymous said...

There is a theory doing the rounds at the moment that Labour are standing aside to allow a Tory victory at the next elections locally. Although it started as a crank idea it is gaining momentum. Labour is not riding out to fight and the officers at Hounslow Council are openly taunting the ICG that they will be out of office next year and are openly lauging at Phil Andrews,Paul Fisher and John Hardy as a joke.

The Tories are talking about bringin forward the budget to stave off any efforts by the ICG to negotiate a tradeoff over Mogden.

Next year there will be a full Conservative majority and Mogden won't ebem be on the rader.

The irony is that Mogden residents probably got better service under Labour, and once the Tory budget has been approved the ICG will be powerless to do anything.

An MRAG candidate in the general election would be a logical step to take. The ICG would have to support MRAG against the Labour-Tory betrayal.

Councillor Phil Andrews said...

We are naturally disappointed at the lack of support that we have received across the board on Mogden, both from our partners and from senior officers. Insult was added to injury when, given a second bite of the cherry at SDC in June, officers defiantly stuck to their guns and members chose to compound their snub by voting for approval a second time. This was a gauntlet thrown down to us whatever way one looks at it.

We wouldn't be human if we didn't take from that the message that senior officers are dismissive of our relevance within the coalition, and also that some of our partners consider remaining in the good books of those officers to be more strategically important to them than retaining our goodwill and support.

Obviously we are always reviewing the situation and we will deal with it in a calm, measured and appropriate manner. The Borough Council resolution on Community Empowerment, which received cross-party support, gives us the tools for the job and we will use them.

The Chief Executive and the Leader of the Council have been copied in to all of the correspondence so they know the lie of the land as it were , and I have spoken to the Leader about our concerns and he understands our predicament. He is a decent man and plays a straight bat.

As for the possibility of an MRAG parliamentary candidate and/or of a formal declaration of support by the community around Mogden for Andy Dakers, I can honestly say that at this point I don't know. I met fellow MRAG officers a couple of days back to discuss the general situation but this scenario was not mentioned at any point in those discussions. Other MRAG members, I would guess, are mindful of my own delicate position.

My own view is that I am minded to stand to one side and let other MRAG members (ie not councillors) decide where they want to go with this, and I and my colleagues will deal with it if and when it happens.

The important thing to understand is that we are not in any way oblivious to what is going on around us and we intend to remain in control of the situation and do whatever it takes to ensure that the local authority is correctly positioned in all departments to take the battle to Thames Water over the coming months.

Phil Andrews ate my voter registration form said...

A classic stitch-up by all accounts.
Back in March, the SDC dropped its drawers for Thames Water in the hope (?) that this would afford LBH a degree of control over Mogden.
Now, a matter of weeks later, Thames boldly announce that they will fight to resist any such outside interference !
A stitch-up for sure, but who are they REALLY stitching up ?

2/1 The SDC/LBH
3/1 The ICG
4/1 All local residents
10/1 Phil Andrews personally
33/1 Robin Taylor personally
100/1 Anyone who's never heard of
Phil Andrews or Robin

Dishonesty/Politics ? said...

Honestly, couldn't anyone see this coming ?
Past form has shown that Thames Water tend not to do 'deals' - they're so rich and powerful, they don't need to.
It's wishful thinking to believe that LBH can exercise any sort of meaningful control over Mogden, they'd rather pay fines on a regular basis.
For starters, try googling "Thames Water record on pollution".

Avid Reader said...

An ideal opportunity has now arisen to see just how honest & honourable Thames Water PLC really are.
Sometime yesterday morning, a major water main exploded on the corner of Worton Road/Riverside Walk (opposite the beer garden of the Royal Oak pub).
This is probably why certain households in Isleworth suffered a temporary loss of water pressure.
"HS Works" working on behalf of Thames Water were dealing with the problem yesterday, but as I speak, the site has been abandoned for the weekend.
Although it has been fenced off and warning signs erected, it is not very secure and they've left a huge, steep hole in the ground.
Furthermore, a large of amount of debris (mud & gravel etc) has somehow found its way into the river alongside.
Now when when the work resumes on Monday, will the hole just be filled in and the debris left in the river ?
We can all keep an eye out for it, can't we ?

Anonymous said...

I passed that location heading into Hounslow on Saturday morning.
The working party had no business leaving a site like that - it was dangerous and inadequately protected.
Surely that hole could've been partially filled at least ?