Statement in relation to recent news stories regarding complaint

"The Authority is disappointed that this complaint about the handling of two minor planning applications was not raised with it directly using the standard local government process. This would have allowed the Authority the opportunity to respond to it. Instead Cllr Fuller chose to report his accusations to Norfolk Police alleging ‘misconduct in public office’.

"The Police review found no evidence to support the allegations and concluded no further action should be taken by them. The Police did not approach the Authority during the course of the investigation and subsequently the evidential review report only contained material supplied by those associated with the complaint. This included some outrageous and inflammatory comments which the Police have since concluded were not within their authority to make and they have since apologised to the Broads Authority. They also contacted the complainants, informing them that the report should not have been disclosed to them and instructed that copies should be destroyed or deleted. Despite this the report has since been forwarded to the media.

"Given the nature of the allegation, the Authority commissioned an independent planning consultant, recommended by the Local Government Association’s Planning Advisory Service, to review the handling of the planning applications. We are pleased and unsurprised that the independent report concluded that the Authority’s staff handled these two minor applications professionally and appropriately. There was no basis for a complaint by Cllr Fuller and even if he had concerns they should have been raised through the normal complaints procedure.

"We are 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 also taking legal advice on how it can protect its staff from harassment and bullying of this nature."

Please find a PDF copy of the independent planning report attached.

Background facts

No planning application has been received from the landowners for mooring at the location.

The first planning application was by the Environment Agency and was to replace the quay heading with no reference to moorings at all. Officers approved the application for quay heading, as requested in the application, -  but added a condition saying ‘no mooring right is conveyed’ because the site does not have existing planning permission for this use. The reason for the condition was to clarify the planning situation (i.e. there is no specific planning permission allowing mooring at the site), and that the application had not sought approval for mooring use. This does not mean that permission for this use would not be granted.

The condition on the first application was subsequently removed with the second application.  The planning situation has not changed, and the site does not have planning permission for use as a mooring. The landowners have been advised on numerous occasions how they could apply to establish that use.

There has been some discussion about a redacted email. An unredacted version of the email in question was sent to one of the complainants on 18 May 2020. It needed to be redacted before it could be uploaded onto the planning portal (as requested by the complainant) to comply with data protection. The part that had been redacted contained personal and financial information.

The Authority has raised concerns about the content of the police report which only appears to represent the views of the complainant and did not allow for those accused to correct the false information. Norfolk Constabulary has admitted its failings in this matter and accepted that the report is ultra vires.

Cllr Fuller should have used the standard process rather than raising a complaint with the Police alleging a criminal offence. Having received the complaint, the Police should have handled it correctly and when they found that there was no evidence of criminal activity that should have been the end of it, rather than repeating false accusations in a report and then releasing it to the complainant.

The Authority welcomes legitimate criticism or complaint and has robust governance measures in place to ensure we it acts within its powers and the law to protect the Broads.

The established complaints process which should have been followed can escalate to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), meaning an independent body who understands local government looks at it. The LGO has the power to make recommendations and require damages - the police can take neither of those actions.

The Authority questions the motives behind not following the established complaints procedure and subsequent actions such as the release of an internal police report to the complainants, and it then being circulated to the media despite a police direction to destroy or delete copies of the report.

Friday 8 October 2021