Council ends investigation after planning boss quits job

OLDHAM Council is looking for a new head of planning after the shock resignation of Stephen Irvine.

Mr Irvine, who had been in post since November 2015, quit on Thursday, August 8 as town hall bosses investigated allegations against him of misconduct.

The council has steadfastly refused to confirm the reason for its internal probe.

But it insists it does not relate to Mr Irvine’s role supporting the council’s planning committee, nor to advice relating to any planning decision or outcome.

OMBC chiefs also say Mr Irvine’s decision to quit “brings to an end any ongoing internal investigations.”

Rumours of Mr Irvine’s absence from work began to circulate in late July.

A council spokesperson told our sister paper, the Saddleworth Independent, on July 25: “We do not comment on or discuss individual circumstances.”

On August 4, Shaw councillor Howard Sykes, Liberal Democrat leader of Oldham Borough released a press statement confirming Mr Irvine had been suspended.

He asked for confirmation of how long the suspension would be and what steps had been put in place to maintain a planning service.

“Currently it is far from perfect,” he said. “I and other councilors are getting lots of complaints from residents and business.

“There is currently a large amount of public unrest in relation to the Planning Officer’s reports in relation to two applications leading to decisions of approval:
1: PA/342008/18 Land at Hodge Clough Road Oldham.
2. PA/343269/19 Land at Knowls Lane, Oldham.

“The implication of the approval for both these applications is significant, particularly in relation to openness, transparency and public confidence.”

On July 1, a planning application from Russell Homes to build 265 homes on land in Grotton, Springhead and Lees was approved despite large scale public objection both prior to and during the planning committee meeting.

Chaired by stand-in, Royton North councillor Clint Phythian, it was later described as a “shambles.’

Colleague, Hannah Roberts, OMBC cabinet member for housing, subsequently stated correct procedures had been followed on both applications and they would not be taken back to committee.

On Mr Irvine’s departure, Helen Lockwood, Oldham council’s deputy chief executive said in a statement: “I can confirm that Stephen Irvine has resigned as head of planning at Oldham council.
“This decision brings to an end any ongoing internal investigations.

“However, we can confirm that the allegations made were not related to his role in supporting the council’s planning committee nor to the advice or outcome of any planning decision.

“We regret that the details of an internal process relating to an employee were made public before we had chance to undertake an investigation or reach any conclusion as to the validity of those allegations.

“We wish Steve well in the future and thank him for all his hard work for Oldham council over the years.”

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