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  6. East Staffordshire criticised by Ombudsman over weak planning

East Staffordshire criticised by Ombudsman over weak planning

East Staffordshire Borough Council has been criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman for the way it dealt with an appeal over a refusal of planning permission.

The watchdog complained that the planning authority wasn’t robust enough and failed to propose conditions at the appeal hearing. These shortcomings led to a development which was more intrusive than it needed to be. The council has agreed to pay compensation after acknowledging it could have performed better.

At issue was a proposal from a local farmer for a building designed to house a free-range egg-laying unit. The application was dealt with under delegated powers and refused on the grounds that the mass and siting of the building would be “visually prominent” and have “an imposing impact” on the surrounding area.

The farmer appealed and it was allowed by a planning inspector. The Ombudsman noted that the council did not suggest any conditions.

Local residents affected by the scheme argued that a condition should have been added about ground levels for the building as the application site was on a slope.

In the event the farmer imported over 10,000 tonnes of material to build up the land and produce a level area for the new building.

The neighbours complained that the council’s failure to suggest a condition about ground levels meant the development turned out even more visually prominent.

The Ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice. The three complainants closest to the development are being paid £500 each by the council for their time and trouble in pursuing the complaint. Another couple who complained but live around one kilometre from the scheme is being paid £150.

The watchdog concluded that the council had a duty to defend its decision but failed. “The council did not robustly defend the appeal…. It had the opportunity to suggest conditions but did not do so.”

Read the Local Government Ombudsman news release.


Roger Milne

2 June 2011