Abolishing Standards Board for England may have undermined planning system

Axing a local Government standards and ethics watchdog could have undermined the planning system, campaigners say.

The Standards Board for England ensured that councillors’ conduct did not fall below a required standard, before it was abolished in March 2012.

Since then councils have been required to adopt a code of conduct based on the seven Nolan principles of public life. However there is no compulsion in law to force local authorities to establish any code.

Neil Sinden, Policy and Campaigns Director, Campaign to Protect Rural England, said he was worried its abolition was damaging the integrity of the planning system.

Writing on telegraph.co.uk, he said: “CPRE believes that local councillors should fulfil their planning responsibilities to the highest standards of probity and transparency. They must be beyond reproach.

“The latest revelations raise serious questions about whether the current standards regime, particularly following the recent abolition of the Standards Board, is sufficient to ensure public confidence in the operation of the planning system.

“As the full force of the Government’s planning reforms begin to be felt on the ground, as well as more damaging development in the wrong places, we are set to see a surge in public concern about whether the planning system is fit for purpose.”

Mr Sinden said the CPRE was worried that there were only “limited opportunities” for people to complain about how planning permissions were granted.

He said: “There are currently very limited opportunities for those who have concerns over the way these responsibilities are exercised.

“Judicial review is often prohibitively expensive and the Government is currently considering curtailing its scope. Recourse to the Local Government Ombudsman is usually too late to be an effective remedy.”

He added: “In CPRE’s view, our system of controls over land use and development, exercised through the planning system, should be regarded as one of the triumphs of the post-war settlement, alongside the national health service.

“For its continued effectiveness, it relies above all else on public confidence in local planners and councillors who between them are usually responsible for around half a million planning decisions each year.”

A Communities and Local Government department spokesman said: “The old Standards Board regime prevented councillors from championing the interests of their local residents and suppressed freedom of speech.

“Councillors were told that they couldn’t vote for or against a development if they had campaigned on the issue in a local election. We have replaced this discredited quango with new rules on transparency, and a new criminal offence to tackle the extremely rare instance of corruption.”

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