Council chief executive apologizes for ‘failures’
Derry City and Strabane District Council chief executive John Kelpie has apologized for the “failures” within local authority.
This comes after the NI Civil Service Ombudsman (NIPSO) investigated a complaint against the local authority.
The grievance concerns the building permit which was granted in March 2014 for an anaerobic digester and a cogeneration plant.
This included authorization to accept waste at the plant.
A request to modify a condition of the authorization granted was filed in November 2017, with the intention of including an additional waste, that of the distillation of whiskey.
In a consultation response, the board was informed that based on the information provided, it was not considered that the proposal would have a negative impact.
However, the response to the consultation indicated that the council should undertake a Habitat Regulation Assessment (HRA) on Lough Foyle, which is a Special Area of Conservation and Area of Special Scientific Interest to ensure that requirements are met. of the Habitats Directive.
No ERS was conducted and authorization was granted on February 13, 2018.
A complaint was subsequently filed by members of River Faughan Anglers (RFA) who questioned why the local authority had not carried out an HRA.
A NIPSO investigation revealed “maladministration in record keeping” regarding the need to conduct an HRA.
Questions were also raised about further consideration of the request.
Maladministration was also found in the inability of the board to provide a full explanation to the complainant regarding a complaint issue.
The report states: “I expect government agencies to be open and provide information on request, unless there is a strong and valid reason not to.
“In the present case, taking into account the subsequent provision of the requested information, it appears that this was not the case in the present case.
“I remind the board that a lack of openness can undermine trust, especially in matters relating to planning and the environment where openness is key to the integrity of the process.”
He adds: “I am convinced that the maladministration identified has caused the Complainant to suffer injustice, frustration and uncertainty, as well as time and difficulty in filing a complaint with this office.
“I recommended that, notwithstanding the previous apologies to the complainant, the board’s chief executive apologize for the shortcomings identified in accordance with the NIPSO guidelines 2 on apologies 1 and that board planning officers be reminded of the need keep proper records of decisions taken and the reasons for those decisions.
River Faughan Anglers (RFA), who lodged the complaint, welcomed the mediator’s conclusions and the written apology received from Mr. Kelpie “for the injustice that the public authority has committed against our inter-community organization run by volunteers.”
A spokesperson for RFA said: ‘This apology is one of three that Mr Kelpie was recently required to make to RFA following three separate investigations by the Ombudsman which revealed maladministration in record keeping. and failing to provide adequate explanations for the actions of public officials.
“Since 2016, RFA has raised concerns with senior officials in Derry City and Strabane District Council regarding its practice of not keeping records of engagements with our directors, particularly given the seriousness of good. many of the planning and public administration issues that have been raised.
“While the Chief Executive Officer of the City of Derry and Strabane District Council has previously insisted that his organization is” … fully committed to the principles of good government and has sought to engage positively with you and RFA ”we found this difficult to accept given the board was unable to provide minutes of any of the four meetings held between senior board officials and directors of RFA, two of which Mr. Kelpie attended and chaired. “
The spokesperson added: “Therefore, it is reassuring that the ombudsman’s investigation recognizes the extent to which the council’s failure to keep records in this particular case, coupled with its lack of openness to RFA, can create public mistrust and undermine the integrity of the planning process. .
“The recent Records Matter publication, published jointly by the Office of the Ombudsman, the Northern Ireland Audit Office and the Information Commissioner’s Office, warns public authorities that failure to keep records appropriate “… can lead to a suspicion of wrongdoing or to the perception that an organization has something to hide. . ‘
“It is hoped that this damning report from the ombudsman is a wake-up call to the council that, if it is to regain the trust of the public it serves, it must stop damaging the integrity of the planning system. “