Minister Pickles left red-faced as he says sorry to Mayor Pipe

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Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has been forced to issue an apology to the mayor after naming Hackney Council as the worst planning authority in England.

In a Commons debate during the second reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill last Monday, Pickles wrongly referred to the borough in response to a challenge from Shadow Communities Secretary Hilary Benn to name a failing planning authority.
“I am very happy to name the worst, which is Hackney,” Pickles said.

Describing the statement as the “latest contribution to the government’s omnishambles”, Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe (photo) wrote to the cabinet minister to demand an apology and public withdrawal of the statement.

“Councils up and down the country are struggling not only with the scale and profile of cuts from your department over recent years but also with the uncertainty that seems to attach itself to practically every announcement made by this government,” Mr Pipe wrote.

The new bill proposes to strip powers from badly performing planning authorities, instead allowing applications to be made directly to the Planning Inspectorate. It has been met with accusations from Labour that the government is trying to centralise planning control.

However, controversy was heightened because the government has not yet published full details on how it intends to judge whether local planning authorities have a track record of poor performance.

Mr Pipe wrote: “You will no doubt be aware that there is concern that in naming Hackney as you have done, you may have fettered your own discretion with regard to the determination of future criteria for failing authorities and left your own consultation and decision at significantly greater risk of judicial review.”

In a correction on Hansard, Pickles has now renamed Haringey Council as the country’s top failing planning department.