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My Lords, I speak in support of the noble Lord, Lord True. I said a number of things in Committee on this group, and Amendment 121E in particular, about the independence of the advice being given, the role of planning officers employed by a council to comment on the report that has been written, and the importance of the general public understanding that independence and due probity is being followed at all points, because the issue of public trust is critical. For the public to have any confidence in the planning system, a robust firewall must be in place so that those writing reports are, and are seen to be, independent of applicants and subject to all the relevant codes of conduct that apply to professional planners.
It is vital that the people whose reports the community’s elected representatives are being asked to trust are people whom the public trusts, too, especially if neither the public nor the council members are able to choose them. Local authorities can contract out these services, and some do, but they must nevertheless guarantee that alternative providers are subject to the same quality, accreditation, competencies and code of conduct that would apply in the public sector. Ensuring that independent providers are qualified to work in the public interest is a necessity, and must apply not just longer term but during the pilot period that we discussed under the previous group.