Council offers £50,000 over homes mistake

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COUNCIL maladminstration over a housing development could end up costing tax payers £50,000.

At a special meeting to discuss a judicial review of South Holland District Council’s dealings with the Nestwood Homes development in Old Main Road, Fleet Hargate, councillors agreed to offer the company a “sincere apology” and a single payment of £50,000, including interest.

The figure – less than 25 per cent of the sum discussed in December last year – was unanimously approved by just ten members of the district council.

Chairman Michael Seymour told councillors before the amount was agreed: “We have to ask can we afford £260,000? Arguably we can afford nothing, but we have to look at where we can make savings and at what we can afford.”

The long-running saga began in 2008, when the district council ordered Nestwood Homes to pull down four new houses and three garages when neighbours complained the development was built higher than it should have been.

However, the developer appealed and the Planning Inspectorate ruled in its favour on the grounds that the council had implied approval of the higher houses when it gave permission for a change of road layout.

In December, councillors refused to pay out compensation of more than £260,000 – reduced from an original figure of £1.2m – and to accept an Ombudsman’s damning report accusing them of maladministration.

The matter came before councillors again on Wednesday because the district council had “not sought to challenge the Ombudsmen’s findings of maladministration, injustice and loss.”

A council spokesman said: “Members decided to accept the Ombudsman’s report in full and agreed to offer a sincere apology to both the company and its director for the maladministration and loss suffered.

“In view of the current financial pressures faced by the council they also agreed to pay Nestwood and its directors the single sum of £50,000, which is to include interest.

“This decision was taken after having put the Ombudsman’s recommendations in the context of the council’s current financial position and its medium term financial strategy.”

Fleet parish councillor Val Gemmell said: “I hope this draws a line under this sorry saga. I hope the district council learns a lesson for the future.”