Beds, Herts & Bucks

Milton Keynes warehouse: Planning officer replaced after agent complaint

Warehouse frame behind homes
Image caption The 18m-high (59ft) warehouse rises behind Bessemer Court residents' gardens

A council planner who opposed a "huge" warehouse scheme near homes was taken off the case hours after an agent complained, emails reveal.

The 18m-high (59ft) unit was built despite fears it would blight homes in Blakelands, Milton Keynes.

The personnel switch now rang "alarm bells", said the man who chaired the Milton Keynes Council committee that approved the scheme.

Developer GUPI 6 denied any suggestion it tried to "manipulate" the process.

Milton Keynes Council is reviewing the application.

Residents objected to the new warehouse, fearing it would block sunlight, but permission was granted in May 2017 and it was built in 2018.

Image copyright Steven Haslington/Geograph
Image caption Emails show planning officer Jeremy Lee was intending to refuse the application

One homeowner said the warehouse on Yeomans Drive made her "cry every single day".

In March 2017 planning officer Jeremy Lee intended to recommend refusal due to the visual impact on nearby homes, according to emails released under the Freedom of Information Act and seen by the BBC.

'Worst decision'

When the developer's agent Knight Frank complained about Mr Lee's handling of the application, senior officers replied within 24 hours to say he had been removed as case officer.

"In order to try and progress matters the case has now been re-allocated to an officer who can dedicate the necessary time to this application," they wrote.

Conservative councillor Andrew Geary, who chaired the Milton Keynes development control committee in May 2017, said approving the scheme was "probably the worst decision" he had made in 15 years.

"The alarm bells started ringing once we realised that the previous case officer was minded to refuse that application, or recommend it for refusal," he said.

"But this only became known to us long after the decision had been made."

The council has commissioned an external review into the Blakelands application.

"It's normal practice for applications to be reallocated if an employee's caseload is high, and the decision on who looks after each case is based on individual workload," said a spokesman.

GUPI 6 said it "rejects absolutely any suggestion that it has been involved in any activity which serves to manipulate the planning process".

The developer said in a statement the decision to change officers was "an internal decision" by the council.

"At no point did GUPI or its advisers ask for a change of planning officer, which it does not have the power or right to do," it added.

Knight Frank told the BBC it was "unable to comment on client matters".

The email correspondence was obtained by local residents who have been campaigning against the warehouse.

The council's external review is due to be completed by 30 September.

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