Maladministration! Planners under fire from Ombudsman!

Trambuster spotted this tale of maladministration from Durham, which will unfortunately sound all too familiar to us in Rotherham Borough:

Planners under fire from Ombudsman

Council officers have been accused of “incompetence and neglect” by the Local Government Ombudsman after wrongly granted planning permission three times for cattle-rearing buildings in a County Durham village.

As a result of these planning errors residents lost the peaceful enjoyment of their homes, reported the watchdog.

The Ombudsman has recommended that Durham County Council should commission an independent assessment to consider whether to remove or amend the planning permissions for all three buildings.

Officers of Durham’s predecessor council, Teesdale District Council, had earlier granted planning permission for two agricultural buildings in a rural hamlet.

The Ombudsman reported that the officers had no authority to give the permissions and did not impose any conditions to protect the amenity of nearby homes. The buildings were used to house up to 120 veal calves.

The Ombudsman found clear and incontrovertible evidence that the council did not keep adequate records of contacts from residents – the residents recorded more than 140 contacts, the council just five.

The residents complained formally in March 2010 to the successor planning and now unitary authority Durham County Council.

A senior manager became involved but he did not investigate the lack of response to their previous complaints.

In July 2010 Durham Council’s Area Planning Committee approved a planning application for a third building, for some 240 cattle, on the basis of a “seriously and inexcusably deficient” officers’ report, said the watchdog.

The Ombudsman found that Teesdale District Council officers were wrong to have granted the first two planning applications and that its environmental health service had failed to record and respond to the residents’ complaints about the impact on them.

The watchdog found that Durham County Council failed to investigate adequately residents’ concerns that their repeated complaints had not been dealt with properly, and that it was wrong to grant planning permission for the third building.

The Ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice and recommended that the council, as well as reviewing the permissions, should pay each household the council tax due on their properties from January 2006 to March 2010, 50 per cent of the tax due from March 2010 to when it reaches a decision based on the independent assessment, and £2,120 in recognition of the noise nuisance, about which they complained in vain, and their time and trouble in making those complaints.

The Ombudsman has also asked the council to investigate two instances of serious wrongdoing discovered during the investigation – letters being removed from planning files and an officer claiming to have sent a letter to the residents during 2009 when it was only created in 2011 during the probe.