Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities Eric Pickles has apologised to Hackney Council for inaccurately labelling it the “worst” local planning authority in the country.
He made the claim during a debate on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill in the House of Commons last Monday when Hilary Benn, Labour MP for Leeds Central, asked him to “name one example of a so-called failing planning authority”.
Pickles replied: “I am very happy to name the worst, which is Hackney”.
Hackney Mayor Jules Pipes immediately sent a letter to the Secretary protesting the ‘unwarranted attack’, writing that Hackney could not ‘by any conceivable measure’ be called the worst performing council.
‘We are not in the top ten list of slowest decision makers for major or minor applications against the national targets, not on the list of the 25 most overruled decision makers and nor are we on the list of the 25 slowest decision makers for major applications within 26 weeks’, Pipes wrote.
Pickles sent an apology letter the following day stating that ‘the example cited should have been the London Borough of Haringey’ and blamed ‘a simple misreading’ for the ‘oversight’.
Speaking yesterday, a Hackney Council spokesman said: “We’re all just very thankful to have the record set straight. We were extremely cross when it happened. There’s absolutely no way that Hackney are the worst planning authority in the country.
“On all of the published government targets, we’re outstripping every one. We wrote to Mr Pickles that night and he was quick to make the apology and the correction.”
Haringey Council has also denied the charge and Pickles now faces the prospect of having to apologise a second time after they issued a statement saying: “It is wrong of Mr. Pickles to claim that Haringey is the worst planning authority in the country, and the Leader of the Council has written to him to ask that he withdraw his comments.”
The Department for Local Government and Communities is coming under increasing pressure – both from within the Eastlondonlines boroughs and nationally – following outcry against proposals for relaxed planning regulations. Pipes’ letter described the blunder as the “latest contribution to the Government’s omnishambles”.
Neither the Department nor Pickles have responded to Eastlondonlines’ question of whether Haringey Council could now expect an apology.