By Dan Moorhouse
Allegations of the council planning permission process being abused have been made. Apparent contradictions in the application and decision making process have come to light amid accusations of abuse of position.
In December 2013 Mr Ayaaz made an application to change the designation of his Legrams Lane premises. Ayaaz’s application was to create a taxi booking office at his premises, with off road parking for the three taxi’s that he intends to operate from the site.
Despite their being no objection from the council’s Highways department, the application and subsequent appeal have been refused by the planning committee.
During his application process the Highways department were consulted. The response from the department was:
“The applicant states that there will be three taxis and these will not be parking at the premises but elsewhere. On this basis I would raise no objections to the proposals from a highways point of view subject to a condition restricting the number of taxis.” Highway Consultation response to Planning Application 13/05153/FUL
However, the application was refused on the grounds that the application: “would lead to an increased demand for on street parking leading to indiscriminate parking, and vehicles manoeuvring in the highway obstructing the freeflow of traffic and resulting in conditions prejudicial to highway safety.”
The refusal also stated that: “This proposed private hire booking office is located close to residential properties…”
There is very clear guidance made available to the planning committee to refer to when making decisions about the suitability of a proposal. Indeed, the planning committee refer to this in both the refusal and the following appeal letters. At first glance then, all appeared to be above board but unfortunate for Mr Ayaaz.
All is not as simple as that though. Mr Ayaaz was contacted by members of the panel who make the planning decisions as he made his way to the initial hearing. These messages implied that a decision had been made before he presented his case. If true, this would be very unusual and would show disregard for the process. Mr Ayyaz said “I felt as though I was in a Pakistani court room”
In addition, Mr Ayaaz was told by one District Councillor that they couldn’t help him because of the May 2014 Local Election. They feared that supporting an application could lose votes.
This is quite worrying. If it is the case that a District Councillor is choosing not to fulfil duties on a committee to attempt to gain extra votes, or ensure they are not lost, this is a failure to undertake the role for which they have been elected. Party politics and electioneering simply should not interfere with their work on these vital committees.
In an attempt to successfully appeal the original decision, Mr Ayaaz then undertook research into similar planning applications. The results were startling. Similar applications had been accepted in the months immediately before he had his application refused. These were in residential areas located at various sites around the district and on roads with limited off street parking. Details of all such applications, both successful and refused ones can be found on the Bradford Planning website.
This at first looks like an inconsistent approach to similar applications. This can be the case as different locations in the district are subject to different needs and development plan requirements. There was one striking similarity between many of the successful applications though: the applicants are often related to Councillors who are involved in the decision making process.
In discussions about the decision with other local businesses, Mr Ayaaz has been given the impression that the approval can be ‘bought’. Whilst this cannot be proven it is very worrying that members of the local business community believe this to be the case. The fact that other similar applications were approved adds weight to that suggestion.
As well as the change of designation to a private hire office, there have been other applications that caught the eye.
One such example was made by the proprietor of a Shisha bar. Smoke Free legislation is very clear about the requirements for any smoking environment and specific guidance is also widely available online. A minimum of 50% of wall spaces have to be ‘open’ in order to comply with the law. (Source: Ivy Legal) In the case of of one application this clearly is not the case, yet the application was approved following a minor amendment.
It is quite clear that all of these examples could be perfectly legitimate applications and approvals. However the relationship between some of the successful applicants and those involved in the decision making process raises doubts in the mind of Mr Ayaaz and others in the local community. A conflict of interest of this nature should be declared and the persons involved removed from the process for any such application. Anything else can, and in this case has, result in question marks being raised over the fairness of the process. Is it a case of one rule for friends and family and another for other businesses?
Another similar application to Mr Ayaaz’s was lodged on 3 February 2015 and passed on 03 March 2015. In Mr Ayaaz’s case there was designated parking for the three private hire vehicles he wanted to use. For the application that has recently been made, there is no off street parking. The application is for a site close to Mr Ayaaz’s premises and was lodged by Uber Private Hire. As this applicant has received plaudits in some local publications, there is a fear that favouritism may influence the panel. Clearly this would be very unfair on Mr Ayaaz and would suggest that the process is not as transparent as it should be.
Moreso, companies like Mr Ayyaz’s are embedded in the community. He is a Bradford born and raised man. He lives here, he wants to employ people here and he supports charities here. Mr Ayyaz has been in the private hire business for over seven years and has an excellent track record. Whereas American owned Uber has been banned or fined in pretty much every major American city, and now, regulators are looking for ways to make the hire-a-car business illegal in all of the United States. Not only that the company also faced problems in India, where a woman said she was raped by an Uber driver; in Sydney where fares rose because of increased demand during the cafe terror siege; and in Germany where some services were banned for failing to comply with German law. Although this has nothing to do with granting planning application, it still begs a question, as to how Uber was granted planning, and Mr Ayyaz wasn’t. What was different about the two planning applications?
For full details of the planning process for both residential and commercial properties visit the Bradford council Website. Full details of current and previous applications can, usually, be found using a simple but effective search function. The planning website is online at http://www.bradford.gov.uk/bmdc/the_environment/planning_service
Bradford Council were asked for a comment about these issues. They declined to comment beyond referring to decision letters that can be found on the planning website.