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Planning officers ordered to not 'correspond' with developers during meetings

Friday 12th March 2021

PLANNING officers have been ordered not to “correspond” with developers during virtual meetings, Downs Mail has learnt. 

The rebuke comes after Maidstone Borough Council staffer Austin Mackie mistakenly messaged an applicant on screen, so that everyone present could read it.

During the meeting, Mr Mackie wrote to the developer: “If you are watching, the deferral is a positive, in that they didn’t refuse on the issues.

“So if we come back with clear details and sort the overlooking matter, then they have what they asked for.”

Mr Mackie referred to the elected members, for whom he works, as “they’ and himself and the developer as “we”.

Now, after an inquiry, MBC claims “all planning officers have been advised that they should not correspond with any parties during committee meetings”.

A statement said: “Regarding the email that Mr Mackie was witnessed drafting during the planning committee meeting; this type of correspondence between a planning officer and an applicant is not unusual; Mr Mackie was simply outlining the issues that were raised by the planning committee which the applicant would need to address going forward.

“However, the council does recognise that a committee meeting which is still taking place is not the most appropriate time for an officer to begin drafting emails. Therefore ... all planning officers have been advised that they should not correspond with any parties during committee meetings.”

This newspaper disclosed last year how planning officers and builder Bellway Homes exchanged more than 2,500 messages in little over two years about housing at Otham.

Independent borough councillor Eddie Powell, pictured, said: “I’m sure Austin Mackie and the other officers at Maidstone Borough Council are quaking in their shoes because, perversely, it is the officers who run the council, not the elected representatives.

“The fact that the council claims that the exchanges between developer and officer are not unusual is perverse in itself.”

 

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