Public Accounts Committee attacks Council incompetence

- Tuesday, 30th April 2002


An investigation by the all-Party Public Accounts Committee into the sale of
Napsbury Hospital today highlights the failings of the then Liberal Democrat
controlled St Albans District Council. Mr. Lilley asked the cross-party
Parliamentary Committee to look into the huge costs incurred during the
planning appeal enquiry on the sale of Napsbury Hospital.

Peter Lilley said:

"This is one of the most damning reports by this powerful all-Party
Committee which I have ever seen. It holds the then Liberal Democrat
controlled St Albans District Council‘s policy as "unreasonable", "wholly
inadequate", lacking a "coherent, consistent and realistic policy". As a
result it holds the then Council responsible for "those additional costs"
some ?340,000 of which fall directly on the local council taxpayer and
?800,000 fell on the NHS (more than enough to save the Hemel Hempstead
maternity unit).

"I originally referred this to the Committee because the planning system
itself seemed ludicrously costly. The Chairman says, "You were quite right
to draw attention to the waste of money in the planning arrangements." Now
that it emerges that the Council itself was largely responsible for the
scale of the waste I believe it is important to bring this appalling
mismanagement out into the open so that the electorate can hold those
responsible to account.

"The problem arose because, between 1995 and 1998, the then Liberal Democrat
Council declared a Conservation area as a kind of ‘back door listing‘, and
locally listed every building in sight without paying enough attention to
the question of which buildings were worth preserving. But as the report
says, "it was unreasonable for the refuse to give any
indication which buildings it most wished to keep". The Council also failed
to call its Conservation Officer during the planning appeal inquiry to
explain why there had been a policy reversal since the early 1990s.

"The costly planning appeal could have been avoided had the previous Lib Dem
administration not delayed the sale through its own incompetence. It is
interesting that local Liberal Democrats are unwilling to discuss the affair
until after the local elections and yet are calling for greater transparency
in local government."



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Public Accounts Committee attacks Council incompetence


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