Council holds its breath over ‘imminent’ report into Blakelands warehouse debacle in Milton Keynes

Council auditors are holding their breath for the 'imminent' publication of report into a Milton Keynes planning debacle.
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A committee this week heard there are concerns that the normal checking process will not be carried out, so if there are any inaccuracies in the Dorfman report, the debate will focus on those.

Planning consultant Marc Dorfman’s report into how a warehouse in Blakelands was allowed to double in height to 18m is being released direct to the public without a draft first being checked by the council for accuracy.

This was deliberately done to try to counter accusations of council interference, which some residents believe has happened anyway.

Imtiaz Farookhi, an independent member at Thursday’s audit committee, said: “I think it is a big risk and I hope that there aren’t any issues around challenges around base material.

“I am a bit concerned. Hopefully it will all go very well but there are good reasons why reports are considered in draft.”

The report, due by Monday, November 16, is going to be made available to stakeholders, including the council, at the same time so they could not be accused of influencing what it says.

The council’s chief internal auditor, Duncan Wilkinson, said: “In this instance there was such significant concern around the council commissioning the report that council took the decision as a positive in order to ensure the public confidence would be there.

The Blakelands warehouseThe Blakelands warehouse
The Blakelands warehouse

“It does carry the risk that some of that evidence or some of that detail may be subject to challenge.

“But that’s Mr Dorfman’s responsibility to ensure he’s got the evidence bas and has checked those issues to to confident. That may also explain some of the delay.

“But we are where we are.”

Meanwhile, the Blakelands Residents Association lost confidence in the report a month ago.

A petition calling for another external report to be commissioned has been signed by 380 people.

The change.org petition says: “We do not believe our concerns have been adequately investigated and we have absolutely no confidence that our many questions will be satisfactorily answered in Mr Dorfman’s report.”

Thursday’s meeting also heard that the council is reviewing how it gave the contract to Mr Dorfman who did not have much time, and without requiring any updates on progress, which has added to public dismay.

Many deadlines have been missed since the development control committee called for a review in February 2019.

On Thursday Mr Wilkinson could not give a guarantee that the report will be published by Monday.

But a meeting has been “pencilled in” for December 1 on the basis that the recent undertaking would be met.

Cllr Dan Gilbert (Cons, Loughton & Shenley) said: “There is huge strength of public feeling, understandably after 18 months of waiting for this report.

“I hope it is forthcoming to the timetable you’ve set out.”

Cllr Charlie Wilson-Marklew (Lab, Stony Stratford) suggested that future reports should require monthly progress reports.