Broads bosses seek chief constable apology after police probe
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
Broads Authority bosses want Norfolk police's chief constable to personally apologise to members of its planning department, following a 14-month probe into their conduct.
The call comes after a planning consultant backed the way the authority dealt with two applications over moorings in Haddiscoe.
But the consultant's report has been branded a "sham" by the council leader who triggered the police probe, when he made an allegation of misconduct in a public office.
What was the issue?
The issue arose over a riverbank at New Cut in Haddiscoe, owned by brothers David Bromley and Christopher Bromley, of St Olaves Marina.
In February last year, the Bromleys asked to remove a condition the authority attached to a previous application, where the Environment Agency installed piling, which prevented any mooring on the land.
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Broads Authority officers said a decision could be made using delegated powers, but five members of the authority asked for it to go before the planning committee.
However, officers refused. It was referred to the monitoring officer, who said it did not need to go to planning, although it was considered by the navigation committee, which did not object.
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The Broads Authority had, in 2002, tried to lease the riverbank from the brothers to provide 24-hour visitor moorings, but no agreement was reached.
In the course of correspondence between authority members and planning officers, a planning officer initially redacted a 2010 email, which authority members had requested in their search for evidence about what an officer had described as "regular complaints" about mooring.
In explaining why that section was redacted, authority members were told: "The parts which were redacted in the emails did not provide any additional information about the complaints which had been received."
But, it was then discovered the redacted text could be read and Broads Authority members pushed for the unredacted version to be released to all committee members.
The full email revealed the authority had previously negotiated with the Bromleys over providing visitor moorings and that the site had "long and informal use" as a a moorings.
Broads Authority members said that information contradicted previous statements, along with the reason for the authority's imposition of the previous 2019 condition for no mooring.
A decision was ultimately made by officers, who removed the condition attached to the the previous application.
But they said it still did not mean mooring could happen without the landowners applying for a certificate or applying for mooring use.
In May, last year, South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller reported the matter to the police, alleging misconduct in a public office, submitting a dossier of evidence, including emails between officers and Broads Authority members.
The police probe and subsequent apology
The investigating detective sergeant concluded nothing criminal occurred.
But she said: "Whilst the motivations behind the decisions made by the official planning officers of the Broads Authority are undetermined, it is apparent that their behaviour appears to be obstructive, unreasonable and at times bizarre, however it is not so serious as to be criminal."
The Broads Authority was angry at such comments and that the police officer had not spoken to officers at the authority. They raised concerns with Norfolk police.
Police had already apologised for "distress" caused and said the officer's comments were "beyond the scope" of the criminal review.
Who did the independent review and what did it find?
The Broads Authority then brought in independent planning consultant Raymond Crawford, former development manager at Hastings Borough Council, to look at its processes.
Mr Crawford's report was published last week and concluded: "I have looked carefully at the information available to me and it is my belief that the authority's officers and advisors acted professionally and took the appropriate action throughout."
Mr Crawford said there did not appear to be any "genuine" planning reasons why the decision needed to go to the authority's planning committee.
He said: "The authority should be concerned about the impact that this episode has had on the planning service in general and the members of the planning team in particular, and consider what action it could take to protect its staff in the future."
Mr Crawford's report did not address the issue of the redacted email.
Following the independent review, the Broads Authority is calling for personal apologies from Norfolk police's chief constable Paul Sanford.
A spokesman said: “We are pleased and unsurprised the independent report concluded the authority’s staff handled these two minor applications professionally and appropriately.
"There was no basis for a complaint by Mr Fuller and even if he had concerns they should have been raised through the normal complaints procedure.
"When we first raised this matter with Norfolk Constabulary in August, senior officers immediately recognised that serious errors had been made in handling this complaint by the police and issued an apology.
"We shall be seeking personal letters of apology from the chief constable to our members of staff involved and an assurance that action has been taken to ensure that junior police officers dealing with complaints from influential local politicians are supported adequately so that in future, they do not make such serious mistakes again.
"The authority is taking legal advice on how it can protect its staff from harassment and bullying of this nature.”
Broads Authority chief executive John Packman last week wrote to staff about the issue in which he said: "It is a great pity that the Broads Authority is being targeted in a way that attempts to discredit the reputation of the authority, our planning service and individual officers."
What do police say?
A Norfolk Constabulary spokeswoman said: “The constabulary has already acknowledged the information contained within the officer's evidential report should not have been shared.
"We apologised at the time and we reiterate that apology. We will ensure any lessons learned from this set of events are shared across the organisation.”
What does John Fuller say?
But Mr Fuller insisted he had been right to raise the issue with the police.
He branded the independent report "a sham", which he believes "fails to consider any of the issues that have occupied the constabulary for 14 months".
He said: "This proves the point that the Broads Authority is incapable of self-regulation and external review by DEFRA is now urgent and inescapable."
He added: "The Broads Authority would be better engaged in fixing themselves, rather than threatening everyone else with legal action for doing their job."