Concerns over ‘underlying mutual distrust’ between Hartlepool councillors and officers

Hartlepool Civic Centre.
Hartlepool Civic Centre.

COUNCILLORS have clashed over the findings of a report into the way a council runs its planning services.

While there was many positives to come from the major review of Hartlepool Borough Council by a team of national experts, some councillors say there are issues that need addressing.

Speaking at a recent full council meeting, the council’s chief executive Dave Stubbs praised the hard work of the staff and said an action plan to improve areas of concern had already been agreed.

The Planning Advisory Service (PAS) and Local Government Association (LGA) put the planning services under the microscope earlier as part of a process known as Planning Peer Challenge.

It praised the department’s leadership and staff and also the council’s track record of decision making.

The report read: “The planning service has hardworking and committed staff. As well as talking to staff about the work they do, we talked to a range customers, work colleagues and councillors.

“Councillors are committed to high quality decision making as part of their community leadership role. The council has a good track record of consultation in developing planning policy.”

But the Planning Peer Challenge report also stated: “Whilst we heard about some very good working relationships at an individual level between councillors and officers, we also heard about an underlying mutual distrust, sometimes played out in public at committee.”

It was that statement that led to a row between councillors at the recent full council meeting.

Putting Hartlepool First councillor Geoff Lilley said: “It was a glowing report for officers. There were concerns about member involvement and members declaring interests though.”

It was reiterated that declaring member interests is always at the discretion of the individual councillor.

Independent councillor Paul Thompson added: “It states a ‘mistrust between officers and councillors’. That is fairly specific and critical and I think it is fairly damning.”

Labour councillor Robbie Payne, chairman of the regeneration services, said inspectors praised the “young, energetic and vibrant” officers and called for members to work together to move the town forward.

Council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher added: “Overall it is a very good report. Nobody is saying it is perfect but we can all work together.

“The whole point is that we asked for this and there is always improvements that can be made.”

Councillor Jonathan Brash said: “There is a lot of positives but what are we going to do with the not so positive?”

Mr Stubbs said: “The report, asked for by officers, is in the main positive and there is an action plan in place.”