GCC accused of 'cronyism' after bringing in consultants to work on incinerator project
GLOUCESTERSHIRE County Council has been accused of 'cronyism' after bringing in consultants already known to senior figures at the authority to work on the Javelin Park planning application.
A team of contractors from BPP Consulting have been drafted in by GCC to help prepare the crucial planning report, which will be put before the councillors charged with deciding whether or not to give planning permission for the incinerator.
Even though BPP will be paid almost £50,000, it has emerged that the contract for the work was not put out to tender - nor did GCC receive quotes from any other companies.
The issue has infuriated anti-incineration campaigners who believe the council has simply brought in 'yes men' to handle Urbaser Balfour Beatty's planning application.
At a meeting of the full council on Wednesday, GlosVAIN member Ian Richens said GCC was guilty of 'cronyism' because the consultants were 'known to Duncan Jordan (GCC's chief operating officer) in a previous life'.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Richens said he was made aware of Mr Jordan's past relationship with BPP after confidential emails - also shown to the SNJ - were leaked by a GCC whistleblower.
GCC has confirmed that Mr Jordan worked with one of the partners in BPP Consulting during his time at Essex County Council seven years ago.
However, a GCC spokesman said it was not unusual that they should be reunited given that all of BPP's partners had spent time working for local authorities in the past.
But GlosVAIN has pointed out that GCC's strategic development manager Chris Kenneford also worked with BPP earlier this year.
Last month Mr Kenneford, who along with Mr Jordan was responsible for appointing BPP, took charge of the Javelin Park application after the previous case officer Ben Gilpin was reassigned to other duties.
Prior to joining GCC in April, Mr Kenneford worked for Buckinghamshire County Council, where he was involved with the successful planning application for an incinerator at Greatmoor Farm.
Buckinghamshire County Council also paid BPP to help prepare the Greatmoor Farm application - although on that occasion the decision to engage the consultants was not made by Mr Kenneford.
As well as helping draft the final planning report for the Javelin Park application, GCC has said that BPP will offer specialist expertise and act as a 'critical friend' to their own planning officers.
The authority has also said that Mr Kenneford, not BPP, will have the final say on the recommendation contained within the report, which will be presented to the planning committee.
As it stands, GCC is hoping that the planning application will come before the committee on January 17 - although Stroud District Council is preparing to launch a 'call-in' request in the hope that communities secretary Eric Pickles will intervene and decide the application himself.
The £48,510 cost of contracting with BPP was revealed following a question from GCC's Lib Dem leader Jeremy Hilton on Wednesday.
At the meeting, Cllr Martin Quaile (Con, Pillowell and Littledean) said the contract was not put to tender 'due to the timescales involved' and the 'specialist skills' which were needed to assist with the application.
During a session of SDC's development control committee the night before, Cllr David Drew (Lab, Paganhill) voiced his concerns about Mr Gilpin being replaced by Mr Kenneford, and the fact that the consultants had been brought in to work on the planning report.
"How can we be confident that the planning application will be dealt with in an objective manner?" he asked.
In response to the concerns, GCC's Duncan Jordan, said: "We employed BPP Consulting to support with this application because they are planning experts with significant experience in waste management and environmental applications.
"We often seek external advice on planning applications to provide specialist knowledge and, where necessary, extra capacity to support the team. This is covered within the council's standing orders.
"BPP is a highly professional organisation and I am confident that they will be able to look at this application completely independently and provide additional support to our planning team.
"The planning process is always about independence and balanced evaluation, leading to a professional recommendation which will then be considered by a committee of councillors who make the final decision."