A tiny North council which is set to rule on three major wind farm applications has admitted having no planning officers of its own capable of dealing with them, The Journal can reveal.
Berwick Borough Council has instead resorted to hiring planning consultants to cope with the mammoth task of handling the bids, which are all due to be decided at the same meeting on May 29.
One of the firms is Darlington-based Blackett, Hart and Pratt, which was hired last November.
It has already produced the report to councillors on the 10 turbines proposed for Moorsyde, near Allerdean, and is currently working on further reports into nine at Barmoor, near Lowick, and a further 10 at Wandylaw, near North Charlton on the boundary with Alnwick District.
And the council has also hired in Dr Joan Rees, the former Director of Development in Redcar and Cleveland, as its acting Head of Development Services.
In March she replaced senior planner John Hayward, who left the department, but is believed to be working only two days a week under her existing contract.
Council leader John Stephenson yesterday confirmed the situation at Berwick.
“We have had significant difficulties recruiting replacement senior officers because we can’t afford to pay the highest rates,” he said. “It would be accurate to say that we don’t have a planning officer of our own at this point in time capable of dealing with the outstanding wind farm applications.
“That is why we have turned to experts from outside the area, to assist our planning department.”
But the concept has sparked outrage from opponents to the schemes, who say the authority – which is the second smallest in England – should hold up its hands and admit it can’t cope.
Last night Moorsyde Action Group chairman Mike Maud said the council was now completely out of its depth.
“The borough has refused the many approaches we have made to meet with a responsible officer to discuss the outstanding issues with Moorsyde,” he said.
“Despite frequent and repeated approaches by us, and by councillors acting on our behalf, we have been unable to meet with a planning officer.
“We’re amazed that the council intends considering three hugely complex and controversial planning applications together at a single meeting with a newly formed planning committee.
“In any other circumstances, such a scale of development would be considered at a public inquiry with expert evidence being presented over several weeks before a highly qualified Planning Inspector.
“It is the future of the borough’s landscape, people and tourist businesses that matter, not any thoughts of failure of a council department to meet its performance targets.”
By Ross Smith
30 April 2007
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