Stephen Irvine Oldham COuncil

Oldham planning head suspended over ‘gross misconduct’ allegations

Charlie Schouten

Oldham’s head of planning Stephen Irvine has been suspended amid claims of “gross misconduct”, with the borough’s Liberal Democrat leader calling for an investigation as to whether the allegations focus on two controversial planning applications, including one by Russell Homes at Knowls Lane.

In a letter to Oldham Council’s deputy chief executive Helen Lockwood, Cllr Howard Sykes, leader of the borough’s Liberal Democrat group, flagged the Knowls Lane application as one of two schemes to be investigated following the allegations against Irvine. The other project relates to 32 houses for First Choice Homes at Hodge Clough Road.

Cllr Sykes said: “If it is the case that the allegations of ‘gross misconduct’ apply in any way to either of these applications, then I would ask that a similar process to the way that the approval decision for Saddleworth School was passed and then ‘revoked’, the decisions in relation to these applications are similarly ‘revoked’ and returned to the planning committee with appropriate reports for decision.

“The impact of both these applications is huge, especially in relation to openness, transparency and public confidence.  People need their faith restoring in modern politics, the Liberal Democrats want answers for local residents.”

Irvine has been in his role since November 2015, having previously worked as a planning director at NLP, and at Cheshire East Council, where he was planning manager.

Oldham’s planning committee has been embroiled in controversy in recent months particularly around Russell Homes’ application; local groups vehemently opposed the project, which will see 265 houses built on a 39-acre greenfield site in the Lees area of the borough.

At the committee on 1 July, following the initial cases for and against the scheme, an initial motion to refuse was defeated by five votes to three; with shouts from the chamber calling for a decision to be deferred, and a confused break where the process of putting forward a motion to approve was explained, another vote was held.

Commitee chair Cllr Clint Phythian, councillor for Royton North, initially announced the decision was unanimous to an incredulous response from other speakers. A final figure of the vote was not announced by the chairman, who simply said the application had been approved, before adjourning the meeting. The decision was greeted by a wave of heckles and cries of “kangaroo court” from the public gallery.

At the same committee, proposals for 27 homes at Pearly Bank were also passed despite a vote having to take place three times. During the meeting planning process was explained to the committee’s chair in detail, before it was announced the project had been refused; however, following another vote, the scheme was approved following several miscounts.

Oldham Council has been contacted for comment.

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No surprise there then. What about Foxdenton.

By A Cynical

It’s not just the planning dept which needs looking at? It’s about time all are audited.

By Sharon

Well what can I say this Save our Valley Campaign are really digging up anything they can against the council and in particular Stephen Irvine. Every man and his dog are getting involved and whoa be tied if you support the development and think it would be a good thing for the area, boasting much need quality houses and put some life back into the Lees area. If you comment on the Facebook page and it’s not they want to hear it is either taken off or is met with a barrage of abuse . Believe you me the so called under handedness and corruption is not just one sided as they would like us all to believe .

By Chris Bayman

From what I saw (video footage of Committee) the real issue was that you had a stand-in chairman and a baying crowd. Quite how you decide to lay the blame at the officer’s door escapes me. If the process (to suspend) was necessary I don’t think they had to publicise.

The other points about old planning decisions is pretty tenuous.

By Mark A

What about Haven Lane Moorside, the planning officers are supposed to be unbiased yet he and his case officer has totally ignored the concerns and objections of local residents.

By Moorside East Residents Association

Some of these comments clearly illustrate the ignorance of the general public as to the role of Chartered Town Planners operating in the public domain. The code of conduct is on the RTPI web site and I suggest people go and read it before mud slinging. Just because a publically employed Planner has a professional opinion different to objectors doesn’t equal gross misconduct. Objectors seem to think that if enough of them shout loud enough they can get anything overturned locally; the reality is that might be a pyrrhic victory because if following a local refusal contrary to an Officer recommendation the Council can’t substantiate the reasons on appeal then they may well be looking at a substantial costs award. And guess what other developers will then use that decision to advance their own cases. I get people might not like a local decision but the Members voted for it not the Officer!

By Anon

Could not agree more with Mark A and anon. If money is raised for a JR and the case is lost then how is the money going to be raised to pay OMBC costs ,and at the end of the day the only thing that may be achieved is delaying the development because their is every chance it would be approved when submitted again.

By Chris Bayman

Saw the video of his audacity pretence at democratic process, what a joker

By nick georgiou332@btinternet.com

Interesting comments from people I assume are knowledgeable and probably know more about planning than most, especially the general public. I ask one thing then, have you read the planning pack that supported these applications and more importantly identified the information that has been omitted. Now if you are saying that regardless of what information is presented to the planning committee, accurate or not planning should be passed anyway then that’s fine. Some I imagine however like in any job think a fair and open policy should apply were all facts are presented to all people to make an informed decision! Just a thought from a member of the public. So to confirm fully appreciate people don’t always get the outcome they would like, that’s life, however it should be based on all the facts, would you say?

By Impartial

Irvine is a control freak, and not in a good way. SAVE OUR VALLEYS only have the interest of the green development that is not needed when so much brown field land is available. Plus how can people saving their community from development be underhanded?? You talk rubbish Chris Bayman. When documents of proof about reports on the land being unsuitable to be built on are omitted and lies about the OPOL status to. He gets all he deserves

By SOV

I walk my dog along the farm road near the northgate and I have seen wild deer in the area of pearly bank why are the council doing this

By Paula Callaghan

The whole argument of, including their name, Save Our Valleys is seriously flawed. They are not building in the valley albeit a small area where the much needed link road will be built. The valley will still be there so get over it. The houses are being built in a farmers field so they need to rename their group “Save a Farmers Field”. It stinks of hypocrisy as their own houses are built on what was once a field.

By Anon

The planning meeting was a shambles. I suggest some of those in favour of the planning decision were not at the meeting, have never even seen the land, do not live in the area and frankly have no idea what they are talking about. It’s not a question of “not in my back yard” it’s a question of not anywhere that is for profit only to the detriment of all else. The objections were ignored. A councillor with a declared vested interest was allowed to vote. The Chair was out of his depth. The Head of Planning clearly scaremongered the committee with threats of governmental fines if they didn’t vote to approve the Knowls Lane proposal and “economical truth” was promoted as fact. This was “alternative fact” cherrypicked to suit a particular viewpoint. The traffic report was carried out on a Saturday, not a weekday. The nature study was carried out in mid-winter. The “ponds” were deemed to be dried up. The OPOL policy was said to have expired whereas the truth is, and I quote Oldham Council, “it is still extant”. A fair hearing, with no lies, no hollow threats or promises, a transparent presentation of facts is all that is wanted. So far this has not happened.

By RK

Dear Anon, what’s in a name? Now I only know the area due to taking an interest in the case and planning process across the country. Interesting you mention name or description. As others have said the general public probably don’t know as much as the experts and just decided on a name they felt was appropriate. What I have found though is that the developers wish to call the new estate Lees Village which as we know are houses in a rural setting and yet they and the planning department wished to specifically state that the area is now urban due to the previous extensive development (hypocrisy maybe?). We all know that our houses at some point stood on what will have been originally a field of some sort, however that is why the ‘so called’ experts decide on protecting pieces of land to create green corridors and divides between other developed areas. Or are you saying this ‘expert’ is now wrong? On that I suppose the other three planning committees who rejected this development were also wrong.

By By Impartial

How can you call Mr Irvine a control freak, do you know him personally? and how can you call ‘stating facts’ scaremongering?. After viewing the video of the planning meeting on the 1st July I can only conclude that Mr Irvine answered all questions politely and factually and as far as I could see no threats were made. The committee members voted on their own merits of the proposal and they nor Mr Irvine or OMBC should be subject to this horrendous backlash from objectors. I understand the objectors are upset that this development has been approved but the fact is, it has and the area of Lees is very much in need of new houses and the new link road. As previously stated, only a small area of the Valley will be taken away for the link road to pass through. The walk ways, the open space and the children’s play area will remain. The design of this development is excellent.

By Lees Resident

To say it’s only part of the valley means you have NO CLUE what you are talking about. A report was submitted saying the area us not suitable for development and the OPOL status was lied about. Who ever posted saying this is excellent is either from the W farm or knows them. Lee’s and springhead are over built so NO Lees does not need more houses otherwise there are no villages or hamlets. Back in your box please

By Anon

Dear Anon in response to your comment that I may be from W farm or know them the answer is no I do not. I am entitled to voice my opinion just like you .

By Lees Resident

YOU CANNOT HAVE A HOUSE NEAR MY HOUSE. OK? I KNOW IT USED TO BE A FIELD TOO, BUT SO WHAT?

By Bemused Blue

“400 million years ago, the first fish crawled up onto the land. OUR land. Coming up here, onto our land, with your barely developed lungs and your hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow for fish. Get back in the sea. It’s too full. There’s too much stuff everywhere. I liked it when there was nothing, remember?”

By Stuart Lee

Following this application for a number of years and reading over this comment thread today, I must say that this site is neighboured by some of the most toxic, hateful people in Greater Manchester. Good luck to the future new residents of Lees Village!

Lets all just take a second to sit back, think about the vast housing crisis, homeless problem, our kids who cannot get on the housing ladder! It’s all well and good to sit back in your mortgage free home watching Dad’s Army reruns whilst objecting to development. Perhaps if more people didn’t live in homes filled with countless spare bedrooms, then maybe the housing crisis wouldn’t be so bad. Downsize, or let development happen. Simple.

Ps. this scheme is well designed, thoroughly thought out and will be an asset to the local area. You should see some of the stuff people get away elsewhere (although of course, you don’t care about those developments because you don’t have to look at them).

By Destroy-All-Nimbys

The problem the developer faces is that most of the Grotton residents are old retirees with not a lot to do. Fighting this excellent development is a perfect hobby for them. Once the development starts they will then spend their time documenting the build and challenging every issue they find. If it gives them a feeling of belonging then let them carry on, at least they are getting out a bit. Won’t make a bit of difference to progress though, which is inevitable really.

By D Talbot

If the head of planning has been suspended then all deals put forward by him need close scrutiny. The Farcical planning meeting that approved the Hodge Clough Road site was in itself, reason to question what has been going on. These approved, controversial plans should be suspended like the leader himself, pending a full enquiriy.

By Angry of Moorside

@Angry of Moorside: The planning system is so bureaucratic and vetted that it is very difficult to be corrupt. One rotten tomato (though, I don’t even think this to be true in Irvine’s case) will not spoil the sauce. Any sites accepted will have done so through a committee independent of the planning department. Irvine’s efforts to stress the need to consider appeal chances is well backed and good practice by him.

The RTPI code of conduct as well as the general political climate of local government make it difficult to get away with poor practice. As a planner, it isn’t worth losing your livelihood over a few bob in your back pocket. I hope that Stephen doesn’t suffer too much.

By Destroy-All-Nimbys

Add Crompton House Schools Expansion Plan to that.

By R G Wilcock

Nothing in this article, nor I suspect in the Press Release it was based upon, describes any form of misconduct on the Officer’s behalf. It seems to be based around a poorly-managed committee and an unpopular decision. There are plenty of both of those across the whole of the country. What’s this got to do with Officers, it’s just someone disgruntled by the democratic process?

By Edge

The way Oldham council pass planning applications to build on greenbelt and green recreational areas is scandalous. With the amount of brown belt land available, old industrial properties, and recently cleared derelict sites how they can then give permission to build on some of the few green areas we have left in the borough God only knows. I honestly think there decision making process needs to be investigated. Ive been a labour supporter for many years but this council has been in power far to long. I would suggest we take our local representatives to task on this issue and find an alternative party to vote for in the local elections.

By Trebor160

The brown belt land is not owned by the same people! Councils can’t force builders to build on land they don’t own!

By Informed

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