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No council staff 'dismissed or suspended' over 10 year 'unlawful' refund failures

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

No council staff 'dismissed or suspended' over 10 year 'unlawful' refund failures 17477285

No Bolton Council staff members have been "dismissed or suspended" amid an ongoing investigation into ten years of “unlawful” failure to refund public money.

Last November the authority admitted that since October 2013 it had been keeping a sum of money believed to run into £100,000s in planning fees that should have been refunded.

Now, two months on council officials say that their investigation is still underway and that no dismissals have been made.

A Bolton Council statement said: “No member of staff has been dismissed or suspended.

“Our investigation into this matter is ongoing and the results will be shared in due course.”

The relevant law came into effect in October 2013 under an amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

It states that when people pay a fee to apply for planning permission it should be refunded to them after 26 weeks unless a decision is made or other agreements or exemptions are in place.

These fees can range from just over £200 for an application to a house extension to more than £20,000 depending on the size of the application.

In November last year council leader Cllr Nick Peel and chief executive Sue Johnson admitted that Bolton Council had been breaching this ever since October 2013.

Though they had not been refusing to pay refunds, the council had been failing to make people are aware that they were entitled to apply for them to begin with.

A council report in November said: “Counsel’s advice is that it is not tenable that this obligation only extends to situations where the planning authority is asked to make a repayment.”

It added: “The obligation arises whenever the conditions for the repayment are met.”

Cllr Peel and Ms Johnson said that they did not know how much money was owed to the members of the public, but that the total was believed to run in to a six-figure sum.

Cllr Peel said that he had first become aware of the issue after becoming leader of the council in May 2023 after it was raised by a member of the public.

A heated full meeting of the council later that month heard how the initial allegations had been made as long ago as 2020.

This prompted widespread condemnation from across the political spectrum.

Labour’s Cllr Peel, Conservative opposition leader Cllr Martyn Cox and Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Roger Hayes all made statements condemning the unlawful behaviour.

Cllr Cox said he believed there was “something fundamentally wrong” with the planning department, while Cllr Hayes branded it “not fit for purpose.”

Planning committee chair Cllr John Walsh said at the time that there were key questions as to how and why no elected members were told about the unlawful behaviour for ten years.

He now says that he hopes that the council will hear more about the allegations publicly soon.

Cllr Walsh said: “They are trying to arrange a Policy Group Development Group for early February after it was decided that this would be the most appropriate mechanism to use.

“So, I would hope we will have an agenda for that PDG by then.”


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