Specific examples of council misinformation

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, and there are many similar examples we could show. These are particularly blatant instances of an increasingly common practice, at both local and national level, which is destroying public trust in our political system. It is difficult to believe that people in authority were unaware that the council's public information was misleading or false.

A: St Ann's Mills

In January 2006 the council's publicity brochure for St Ann's Mills and Abbey Mills contained the following assurance at the bottom of page 3:

This seems clear enough. This land to the rear of the main mill building was originally purchased to provide public open space. It is in any case within the flood plain of the River Aire, so it is protected from development by the council's own planning policy N38 in the Leeds Unitary Development Plan.

However, in January 2006, casual readers were unlikely to be aware of the following additional, and highly relevant, information:

Pants on fire, LCC! Which part of the word "No" do they not understand?

B: Abbey Mills

On 20 April 2005 a council highway engineer started design work on a new access road for Abbey Mills, to facilitate its intended sale for residential development. This was a tricky assignment, because the land slopes steeply down (by about 5 metres) from the A65 Abbey Road towards the mill race, through the attractive garden of the grade 2 listed Abbey Villa. It would be difficult to achieve a level road junction in line with professional safety recomendations.

Abbey Villa, photographed from the "disused access route" on the drawings below.

The council's senior officers did not want to encroach onto Kirkstall Abbey Park and thereby cause English Heritage to be involved, so they opted instead for a cross-road intersection opposite Norman Street. New cross-road intersections are a known safety hazard, which are normally forbidden on busy main roads. The proposed access onto the A65 (which is the most congested road in Leeds) was on a blind corner on the inside of a left hand bend. Another issue was the loss of mature trees, in the garden of the grade 2 listed Abbey Villa. The engineer could not achieve the recommended drivers' sight lines because the mill buildings and trees were in the way.

Here is what he drew. (The explanatory text has been added by Cllr John Illingworth.) Click here to download the original AutoCAD file (1.6MB). Click here to download FREE viewing software for AutoCAD files.

When the draft Planning Brief for Abbey Mills was released for public consultation in January 2006, part of the boundary wall had mysteriously moved several metres to the east. There did not appear to be any difficulty whatsoever with sight lines, and minimal loss of mature trees. The only problem was that the boundary wall is shown in the middle of the A65 Abbey Road, and if you look very carefully, a car is still visible on the photomontage, beneath the pink transparent overlay. Click here to download the 'consultation version' of figure L2.

After the public consultation period came to an end, the wall moved back west again to a more normal roadside position in the definitive published version of the Planning Brief, although it is still not in the correct place. It also seems to have developed a slight bend. Click here to download the 'definitive version' of figure L2 from the adopted planning brief.

The council's development department clearly believes that drivers can see round corners when a capital receipt is in the offing.

Should people now believe anything that Leeds City Council tells them?

Councils and governments are increasingly adopting a technique that depends on incremental change. Having identified their real objective in private, the organisation adopts a false, but highly popular public position from which it can move more easily to its desired goal. In this way the organisation can sidestep entrenched opposition in its direct path, and approach its real target by another route. The initial position must be difficult to verify, so that the props can be gradually knocked away one by one, leaving the organisation with "no alternative" but to move towards the original, secret objective.

Related techniques are in widespread use for major, contentious planning applications. One of these is sometimes called "The Aunt Sally, The Cherry and The Bums' Rush".

The "Aunt Sally" is a preposterous initial planning application, which has no realistic chance of construction, but is intended to draw the fire, because most objectors will only write once to make their objection.

The "Cherry" is a revised application, where the applicant admits to the error of their ways. The scale of the application is reduced and some attractive features may be added. This application usually remains on file until the planning committee papers have been printed, with an officer's recommendation for approval.

The "Bums' Rush" is a welter of late amendments, submitted after the committee papers have been published, which omit or dilute many of the attractive features in the 'Cherry' but leave its money-making core intact. The legal requirements for publication of the application have already been satisfied at an earlier stage, so there is no necessity for the planning authority to even notify objectors that 'minor' amendments have been received. Insufficient new copies will be available for the planning committee, who are likely to rely on their existing printed copies of the 'Cherry' application. With luck, nobody of importance will notice until the development is complete.

A related technique is the outline planning application with "illustrative" drawings. This will commonly seek outline approval for the things that really matter to the developer such as the total floor area, number of units and the means of access to the site. As far as these items are concerned, the outline approval IS the planning consent. If the planning authority subsequently changes its mind, substantial compensation becomes payable to the developer. Nevertheless, the public are reassured that this is 'only' an outline application, with an implication of some tentative, conditional, temporary approval. The developers may submit illustrative drawings to show what a lovely scheme they have in mind.

The public are unlikely to realise that such illustrative drawings have absolutely no force in law. They are not part of the application. They are mere decoration, and the developer is under no obligation to build them, either now or at any time in the future.

Intense debates sometimes develop over such ephemera. The developer is happy to see well-meaning individuals expend their energies in this way. He has them both ways: if the public say nothing then "the outline proposals met with quiet approval" but if they do object they are simply wasting their time.

return to the main site

Promoted by John Illingworth, 37 Kirkwood Way, Leeds LS16 7EU