Richmondshire District Council chairman apologies for criticism of planning officers

Independent group leader and Richmond county councillor Stuart Parsons.

Richmondshire District Council’s chairman has apologised for castigating planning officers at a public meeting, saying he had “misbehaved completely”.

Long-serving Richmond, Richmondshire and North Yorkshire councillor Stuart Parsons said he regretted targeting district council officers at its planning committee last month as a planning application for a controversy-hit site was considered.

In September the council’s planning committee sat in silence as Cllr Parsons accused planning officers of presiding over a “cock-up” and producing a report that amounted to “absolute nonsense” that was “hysterically wrong” about changes to plans to expand a holiday business in Hurgill Road, Richmond.

Cllr Parsons, who represents Richmond as an Independent, said following planning permission being granted last year councillors had met with officers and agreed changes to the conditions, only for the changes to be left off the updated recommendations.

He said: “Quite frankly I cease to have any confidence in the planning department at Richmondshire District Council. The lack of follow-through, explanation, provision of information as requested is unacceptable. I will not be working with the planners in future I will be going through their director.”

Officers responded saying there had been no intention to mislead councillors and Cllr Parsons was “quite rightly pretty angry about the situation we have got ourselves into” over the Hurgill Road site, which remains contaminated with heavy metals.

A month on and Cllr Parsons stood before the planning committee again and expressed regret at having made the comments “in an environment where the officers had no right of reply”.

Cllr Parsons said: “Council officers are not allowed to answer back to members, so the planning officers showed considerable restraint. I put them in a very difficult position and it was unacceptable.

“I should have done it in a forum where they were able to answer back. They may have justification for what happened and I have to give them a fair chance to explain.

“I misbehaved completely. My anger and explosion, while justified, shouldn’t have allowed me to do what I did. If you do something wrong you should be prepared to stand up and acknowledge it.”

When asked if he would work with the planning officers, Cllr Parsons said: “I will sit down and see where we can go. My concerns still exist and they will be dealt with in a different environment. I am still very concerned about what is going on at the Hurgill Road site.”

A Local Government Association spokesman said: “A successful relationship between councillors and officers will be based upon mutual trust, understanding and respect of each other’s positions.”

Members of the committee, both from the ruling group and opposition, said they had been astonished by Cllr Parsons’ condemnation of the officers in public and welcomed his decision to apologise.

Councillor Jimmy Wilson-Petch said there were “worrying signs of the old confrontational attitudes that Richmondshire District Council was riven with in the past” returning.