Questions are being asked at County Hall after a claim the developer behind the controversial planning application at Falmouth Wharves was given a £30,000 “compensation” pay out by Cornwall Council.
Cllr Hanna Toms says that the cash was given to the developers after the application was turned down by a council planning committee, following a complaint regarding the way in which the council handled both its pre-application engagement and its processing of the application.
The application has since been rejected by a planning inspector at appeal. There is no suggestion that the developer has behaved in any way inappropriately.
Concerns have also been raised after a Freedom of Information request directly asking whether payment had been made saw a council response saying it had no record of any payment.
However it has since come to light that this response was incorrect.
The council has since reviewed the circumstances connected with its handling of the planning application for the mixed use development, with a review now confirming that a compensation payment was made to the applicant.
The complaint is reported to have been upheld by the council as it considered that the council’s actions could constitute “maladministration which adversely impacted upon the complainant”, and in these circumstances a compensation payment was appropriate.
Adding that the review has confirmed that the conclusions reached in determining the complaint and remedy were “reasonable” and that the council was empowered to make a compensation payment.
The review also found that a request for information made in January under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 connected with the payment did not disclose the fact of a compensation payment.
The circumstances of the handling of this request have also been reviewed and the response sent was incorrect as a communication break-down meant the officer who had determined the complaint and the fact of the complaint was not known by those who were consulted.
The first stage of review was undertaken by a senior council officer who is independent of the planning, housing and regeneration service.
The review has not left everyone happy, with Falmouth councillor Hanna Toms saying: “Several local people approached me telling me that they had heard that this was the case, but then when one of the property owners and applicants alluded to it at the appeal hearing - I became aware that I needed to dig deeper.
“It became apparent from conversations with officers and the portfolio holder for environment, heritage and planning, Cllr Edwina Hannaford, that it was likely that money had been paid out in the form |of compensation.
Cornwall Council has now launched an official investigation into the whole matter and I am looking forward to having these quite serious questions answered.”
She added that she would like to |be reassured that in the future, Freedom |of Information requests would be correctly answered.
Cornwall Council had not responded to a request for a statement when the Packet went to press.