Independent inquiry to be held into 'worst planning decision ever made' by Milton Keynes Council
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Councillors have unanimously agreed on how to move forward with the two-year investigation into how a giant and oppressive warehouse in Blakelands was given planning permission.
There will now be an 'open, transparent and professional' independent inquiry led by an expert QC. It is not yet known how much this will cost.
The decision to make the move was made last night at a Special Audit Committee, organised following the last month's resignation of lead author of a preview review, Marc Dorfman
His long-overdue review should have been published in mid-2019 but was marred in controversy and postponements that saw the investigation and MK Council 'lose credibility' and the confidence of Blakelands residents, say Tory councillors.
Conservative councillor Dan Gilbert (Loughton and Shenley ward), brought forward an amendment at the Special Audit Committee stating: “Yeomans Drive will go down as the greatest planning error in MK’s history. This is the last chance to ensure it is not also the greatest administrative error in MK Council’s history.”
The amendment aimed to ensure the review was properly resourced and establishes independence and transparency over the process and the formation of the review.
Blakelands residents took their chance to speak up about the saga. Richard Schofield, said: “We must find out what happened, so it doesn’t happen again.”
Fellow resident Catherine Wright said: “By everyone’s admission, this is the worst planning decision MK Council has ever made, surely you owe it to us to find out how this decision came to be made to avoid anyone, anywhere else, suffering the same fate. Please stop trying to sweep this under the carpet and commission a swift and thorough review.”
Members of the Audit Committee were tasked with deciding what form, scope and transparency the investigation would continue in.
Conservative Cllr Andrew Geary called on the committee to “make the bold decision to grasp the nettle and make the bold turn in a different direction” adding that this would “command the confidence and respect of residents and members of the public”.
Cllr Alex Walker, Leader of the Conservative Council Group, said: “Yesterday we managed to stop the Council making the same mistakes again by finally securing for residents a fully independent inquiry.
“It is the only way to get to the bottom of the Blakelands warehouse saga and deliver the answers residents deserve.”
Liberal Democrat Councillor Jane Carr, who represents Newport Pagnell South, said: “I fully support the residents in their call for answers, and as a member of the Progressive Alliance administration I will make sure there is proper funding and support for the independent investigation.”
She added: “It is crucial that any investigation into the Blakelands warehouse issue is open, transparent and professional, and I respect that a QC can deliver this.”
“It is important that the scope and terms of the new investigation are set by the QC and the QC alone.”
Cllr Carr said the QC will be instructed by the council’s monitoring officer on recommendation from the Royal Institute of Town Planning, ensuring that any such QC is qualified, reliable and capable.
Meanwhile the Blakelands Residents Association released a statement. It states: “We are pleased that the audit committee have finally listened to the residents of Blakelands and unanimously agreed to commission a new review into the warehouse led by a leading legal professional.
"We believe that the steps taken tonight will now ensure that a thorough and independent review will take place. It is important to us that we are able to learn the truth about what happened and what steps can be taken to prevent it from ever happening again.”