The new government watchdog has slammed the Planning Department over its “poor” enforcement procedures in a report exposing a lack of clear process to avoid conflicts of interest, and a failure to implement recommendations from an internal review.
In her first report as Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Lynn Pamment focused on the use of enforcement powers across a number of Government functions, including Planning and Building Control, Trading Standards, Environmental Health and Environmental Protection.
She concluded that islanders were not receiving the service they should expect from enforcement by the Planning Department, which was described as showing "substantial underperformance against target".
Pictured: Ms Pamment found the Planning Department does not have clear processes to manage conflicts of interest.
Although Ms Pamment said there was "awareness of the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest", she cast doubt over the objectivity of enforcement decisions due to a lack of “explicit processes to manage conflicts of interest and clear, published policies for the exercise of discretion."
She said that Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers had access to “structured arrangements and forms” to record and document the consideration of conflicts of interest, but that there were none for Planning, Environmental Protection, Highways and events and car parks.
“It is essential that the exercise of enforcement powers is perceived as fair. That includes ensuring that those making decisions do not have any conflicts of interest,” Ms Pamment wrote.
Ms Pamment’s report was put together amid public criticism over the way enforcement powers had previously been used by the Planning Department - some of which she refers to in her report.
Pictured: The States Complaints Boards upheld a complaint against the Planning Department in 2018.
Among those to raise concerns was Ivor Barette, who was was given a £50,000 fine - one of the largest in the island’s history - by the Royal Court for replacing rotting windows in his house, Broughton Lodge Farm, a property he had inherited and lived in his whole life.
He raised concerns about the process that led to his fine, with the grievance eventually upheld by the States Complaints Board - a group responsible for investigating formal grievances against government departments and their responsible Ministers - in August 2018.
The board concluded a policeman-turned-planning officer shouldn’t have been involved in the property dispute due to a previous conflict between him and Mr Barette.
Ms Pamment also noted how her office received correspondence raising concerns about Planning enforcement around the same period in 2018 and 2019.
Pictured: Not enough information on Planning breaches and enforcement is available, the C&AG said.
The C&AG also noted that, while the Gov.je website includes a wide range of material on planning matters, only limited information is available on breaches and enforcement.
She also noted that procedures for planning and building control are not comprehensively documented.
“Much of the documentation focusses on how to record action rather than what action to take and in what circumstances,” she wrote in her report.
“Although a matrix is used within building control to help officers in exercising their discretion on a consistent basis, there is no corresponding document for planning.”
Pictured: Planning Officers themselves find their systems "cumbersome."
Ms Pamment further stated that Planning Officers themselves found the systems of their department “cumbersome”, which she said “reduces the ability to review decision-making and increases the risk that action taken is not adequately recorded."
After reviewing case files undertaken with officers, she identified such weaknesses in record keeping including in relation to planning cases subject to enforcement action.
“Such weaknesses increase the prospects of successful challenges to decisions,” she commented.
Furthermore, Ms Pamment noted how the Planning Department never took action following an 2014 internal review which recommended that supplementary procedures and forms for planning and building control be consolidated into a single, accessible document.
Speaking following the publication of her report, Ms Pamment said the government had "responded positively" to her findings, adding: "...I look forward to seeing real progress in the near future."
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