By STEVEN DOWNES
Five days ago, this website carried an article written by Steve Whiteside that exposed Heather Cheesbrough, “BA (Hons) PG Dip LA CMLI MRTPI”, Croydon Council’s “director of planning and strategic transport”, as claiming to be something that she isn’t.
The use of CMLI after her name, on her personal online profile, was an attempt by Cheesbrough to claim that she is a Chartered Member of the Landscape Institute. She is not. It is misrepresentation, a form of fraud.
The Landscape Institute advised Whiteside that Cheesbrough had not been a chartered member of its organisation since 2013, three years before she started working at Croydon Council.
Whiteside uncovered this nugget of dishonesty by one of the council’s most important senior officials nearly a year ago.
He contacted Cheesbrough to ask her about it. The council employee, a public servant, ignored him. His emails went unanswered.
The letters “CMLI” remained, stubbornly, unashamedly, affixed to her online profile, a brazen claim of a professional affiliation to which Cheesbrough was not entitled, a suggestion to those in the planning business that she is something that she is not.
Then, in August this year, the Landscape Institute itself took action.
The Institute (motto: “Inspiring great places”) wrote to Cheesbrough and they instructed her that she must remove this bogus claim of affiliation, and that she must advise them when she had done so. After all, if she hadn’t been paying her fees…
Again, Cheesbrough did nothing.
Until this week.
Inside Croydon’s report exposing this abuse of public trust, this failure of openness, integrity and honesty, was published on Monday, October 4.
By yesterday, October 9, Cheesbrough’s LinkedIn profile no longer had the letters “CMLI” attached to her name under “licenses [sic] and certifications”. It took Cheesbrough fewer than five days to react to an Inside Croydon report.
She is now “Heather Cheesbrough BA (Hons) PG Dip LA MA MRTPI”.
The removal of “CMLI” can be seen to amount to an admission by Cheesbrough that she was attempting to deceive over her qualifications to do her job.
In the overall scheme of things, it represents a significant shift.
Cheesbrough began working for Croydon Council in January 2016.
The appointment and interview process for a new director of planning and strategic transport had been approved by a council sub-committee held in Room F9 of the Town Hall on the afternoon of October 1, 2015.
Present that day, the minutes tell us, was the chair, Labour’s council leader Tony Newman, with Alison Butler and Paul Scott, the husband and wife who oversaw the borough’s housing and planning policies, plus Jason Perry and Tim Pollard, from the opposition Conservative group.
The record of that meeting six years ago show that an initial salary of £105,000 per year would be paid for the job.
The director of planning’s responsibilities include “urban design”, “place-making”, and “planning enforcement”, all areas where some competence and expertise, and qualifications, in landscaping would undoubtedly be a key part.
Now, because “personal” details discussed at these committees are never put into the public domain, we cannot know for sure whether being a Chartered Member of the Landscape Institute was included on Cheesbrough’s CV at the time, or included on her application to Croydon Council. Maybe she included it as a piece of professional bravado on her digital profile, in the expectation that no one would ever check.
There have been concerns before about the lack of due diligence performed by the council’s HR department and the sub-committee over some appointments to senior and important roles.
And as Inside Croydon has reported, the previous chief planner in Cheesbrough’s department, Pete Smith, was appointed despite not being a chartered member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, and therefore was not subject to its rules and standards of professional conduct.
According to the RTPI, around 4-in-5 of the country’s qualified town planners are members of their organisation. But not Croydon’s long-time chief planner. No one at Croydon Council has ever offered any explanation why they felt it acceptable to have a head of planning who was not a chartered member of the RTPI.
Why is any of this important?
There are several reasons. It is widely acknowledged that there are serious problems with planning in this borough, and widespread and ongoing concerns about the integrity of the council planning department and some of its senior officials.
As we have reported previously, one of the council’s most senior planners, Ross Gentry, is married to a director of a local property development company.
For her part, Cheesbrough has recently taken to lecturing, hectoring even, members of the planning committee. The planning department’s conduct demonstrates “the highest personal integrity and professionalism”, she insisted to the elected representatives to whom she is supposed to be answerable.
Yet all the time she was saying this, Cheesbrough was making claims about her own professional qualifications which were, demonstrably, false.
By our reckoning, Cheesbrough’s conduct in this episode is potentially in breach of six of the seven Nolan Principles of conduct in public life. A breach of any one of them ought to be enough to require a resignation.
Given Cheesbrough’s effective admission of fault, it will therefore be instructive as to how quickly the council chief executive, Katherine Kerswell, or the council leader, Hamida Ali, or indeed any one of the borough’s 70 councillors, now act and refer Cheesbrough in a formal complaint over her misconduct to the monitoring officer.
Because not to act, given the admission of fault, surely would be seen as condoning such behaviour.
Read more: Director of planning’s bogus claim over Institute membership
Read more: Director refuses to admit conflict of interest over South Drive
Read more: Family fortunes: council suspected of planning cover-up
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