Leeds planners have been urged to stop giving rule-breaking developers “chance after chance after chance after chance”.
The city council’s planning enforcement team was heavily criticised by its own councillors at a meeting on Monday, for failing to take legal action against house-building firms who breach the terms of their planning permission.
One Labour councillor said she and her colleagues were being made to look “stupid and foolish” when residents made “justifiable” complaints without results.
The head of the planning service said his team dealt with around 1,000 enforcement cases at any one time and it was “not practical” to take every single one to court.
But speaking at an audit and governance committee, where the issue was discussed, Labour councillor Paul Wray said most elected members “don’t have confidence” in the system.
He told the meeting: “We do have concerns over the efficiency and consistency of enforcement.
“In trying to save money, it actually ends up costing the council more money because there’s a resistance to going down the formal, legal route and (instead) we give developers never-ending chances.”
Cllr Wray cited an example from his own Hunslet and Riverside ward, where he said the council will now have to build a road itself, because a developer it refused to take action against for “four years” has now gone bust.
Addressing the council’s head of planning directly, he later asked: “What is the methodology your officers are going through where they will give a developer a chance, after chance, after chance, after chance, after chance? At what point does someone say, ‘they’re not playing ball here and we need to do something about it’?”
The authority’s chief planning officer, David Feeney, admitted it was “challenging” when developers and households “dig their heels in” after breaking the rules. But he said he had to be mindful of the cash-strapped authority’s meagre resources before pursuing action.
He told the meeting: “We try to take proportionate action in relation to the merits of individual cases.
“In not all instances do we need to go down the formal route. Persuasion, dialogue and engagement with the offender is often sufficient to turn things around and get those improvements.
“I accept though there is resistance in a number of cases to the measures we want to see introduced, and I’d always ask for more resources.”
But Labour councillor for Chapel Allerton, Jayne Dowson, agreed with Councillor Wray.
She told the meeting: “There does seem to be reluctance to take things to the next step.
“I’ve got cases that have gone on for years and years and years with no action being taken. We do need to do work on quicker decision-making.
“We begin to look stupid and foolish as elected members when our residents justifiably complain time after time about something and the council seems impotent to be able to do anything about it.”