Luton Borough Council deputy leader Sian Tomoney has apologised for the delays it has taken to announce dates to hear Luton Town's planning applications for both Power Court and Newlands Park.
The Hatters submitted proposals for a new 17,500 stadium and a mixed use scheme way back in August 2016, with a planning decision date originally set for August 20 this year, but then scrapped.
However, after months of waiting, it was confirmed this morning that the Power Court plans would be heard on Wednesday, January 16, 2019, and Newlands Park on Wednesday, January 30, 2019.
Speaking to Justin Dealey on Three Counties Radio this morning, Cllr Timoney explained just why there has been such a lengthy delay, saying: "It’s disappointing for me that its taken this long, I apologise on behalf of the council, but actually, there have been so many different aspects that have slowed it down.
“It’ not just about council officers, our council officers have been working like Trojans on this.
"We have brought in extra staff, we've brought in consultants, we’ve brought in outside bodies to do some of the research, so it's not about that we're not doing what we're supposed to be doing.
“I don’t want anyone out there to believe that we sat on this deliberately, absolutely no way.
“This could be fantastic for the town if it gets approved, so why would we do that?
“The main reason has been getting really good, quality expert legal advice and right into the technicalities and things that I don't know enough about.
“Huge technical detail around the applications have had to be looked at by QCs, we've had to do that because a JR (judicial review) is a really huge thing for a council.
“It's not something we want to go into, it's going to take a great amount of officer time, it's going to cost a lot of money, so we've got to make sure we have buttoned down everything, so that the challenge is less.
“I do apologise if people think there’s been radio silence, that hasn’t been a deliberate thing, but we wouldn’t want to come and say 'we’ve got nothing to say,' so that’s why we've now come with those dates.
“They will happen on those dates and I can categorically say that, the applications will be heard on those dates.
“If they go through and they're approved by our members on development control, I think that’ll be a fantastic opportunity for the town and I really look forward to hearing what the outcome will be.
When asked why the applications are being heard on two separate dates a fortnight apart, Cllr Timoney continued: “Although they’re quite clearly linked in most peoples minds, we have to actually treat each application individually.
"We have a duty to bring an application to committee when it’s ready and Power Court is ready and Newlands Park is just going to take that little bit longer to get the final report ready to go.
"Because of what the final things that need to be done for the Newlands Park report, these are the dates that have been agreed and for us it’s really important that they get through robustly and that the information is as full as it can be.
"As I would hate to go to committee and have some gaps missing, so let’s do it properly.”
Clr Timoney was also asked just how much the long and drawn out process had cost the tax payer, as she said: "I wouldn’t even like to take a guess, I can’t tell you how much they've cost.
"The applicants have got absolute right to put in applications and our development control team have to work through any applications that come through, so there’s always going to be that cost.
“It’s something that we will have to do after the applications have been determined and we will look back at how much it has cost.
"But we certainly put in a huge amount of resource and brought in extra resource in terms of planning officers, in terms of getting outside organisations to do some of the research studies that we've needed to do, to inform our members when they sit on development control about everything about those applications, so a huge amount of money.”
There have been rumours that part of the delay has been down to the Mall owners Capital & Regional submitting a number of Freedom of Information requests to slow down the work of the planning officers.
However Cllr Timoney added: “I'm pretty sure they’ve put in one, but you’d have to ask Laura (Church, Corporate Director, Place and Infrastructure) about the freedom of information requests because I don’t know anything about those at all.
"I know that there have been some that have meant that our officers have had to compile a huge amount, but I don’t know where they’ve come from or how much information they’ve wanted.”