Senior civil servants have admitted complaints into a planning department process could’ve been handled better but denied misconduct after they were brought before an Administrative Decisions Review Board.
An initial complaint was brought by James Collings as he felt a request he had put into the States’ planning service had been handled unnecessarily slowly causing him to lose out on business.
A property he owns and leases in St Peter Port - Bonamy House - was used as an office since 2000 but never had a Certificate of Lawful Use, which he sought in 2019 following a recommendation from the Director of Planning prior to a new tenant moving in.
The review into events was first led by Damon Hackley, a States Director of Operations, who legitimately appointed himself for the task, but it was deemed unsatisfactory to the complainant.
Mr Collings alleged that Mr Hackley didn’t consider all the evidence, didn’t disclose the right to appeal against decisions, and was conflicted in leading the investigation due to ties with the planning department.
All parties at the hearing acknowledged that a “perception” of a conflict of interest existed, but it was strongly denied by the States.
When questioned by the Board Mr Hackley accepted he may not have been best placed to investigate the complaint, which is why he offered a re-review led by another civil servant to alleviate Mr Collings’ concerns.
That second investigation was led by Anita Walker, also a Director of Operations, independently of Mr Hackley. She found that Mr Collings didn’t have a “good customer experience” with the planning service but said there was nothing “untoward” about the process.
She sought Law Officer advice throughout as she was detached from the planning service and said she would have drawn the same conclusions if asked to re-investigate.
Mr Collings escalated the matter to the Review Board as he found the conclusions of the second review to also be unsatisfactory and said accountability could only be obtained through an independent review.
Pictured: The hearing was held at the Peninsula Hotel.
The States maintained it had put a “credible and valid offer” on the table for a new review which would be open to new evidence and led by someone outside the public sector prior to the Review Board hearing as it recognised Mr Collings' strong feelings on the matter.
It said these investigations are often carried out internally if the relevant skills are available, but they can be open to external input.
Jason Moriarty, the States’ Chief Operating Officer, told the hearing that with hindsight a “different tack” could’ve been taken in the complaints process and admitted there had been a “couple of administrative errors”.
But he strongly refuted accusations of impropriety and said no evidence had been provided to demonstrate that.
He sympathised with Mr Collings’ frustrations but said there was no bias or disruptive behaviours with the intent of misleading him.
The complaints procedure has since been strengthened, he added.
The Review Board discussed writing up guidance for all parties into how a new review into the complaint should be undertaken, including the appointment of an external investigator independently of the States to ensure transparency.
It also suggested that independence and fair independence could be better defined by the States to limit accusations of impropriety.
Any re-review will be overseen by the Review Board. If Mr Collings again questions the process powers exist to raise the issue with the States Assembly.
The hearing, which was open to the public, was not advertised online. Express has queried why this was.