District council slammed over housing development

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AN OMBUDSMAN has slammed South Holland District Council for “maladministration” over the way it handed a controversial housing development in Fleet Hargate – and ordered it to pay £25,000 in compensation.

Local Government Ombudsman Anne Seex has issued a damning report this week in which she tells the council to make a full apology because the way it acted caused Nestwood Homes and its staff stress, damage to its reputation, financial difficulties and a strain on family and business relationships.

The report centres on the council’s handling of a development in Old Main Road in 2006, which Nestwood says cost them £1.2m in losses.

The council ordered Nestwood Homes to pull down four houses and three garages because it said they built them on ground raised too high.

However, an inspector later ruled that the council had in fact given permission for the site levels to be raised when it approved a road layout and that it was wrong to impose enforcement notices, prompting a complaint by Nestwood about the council’s handling of the matter.

It is rare for the Ombudsman to investigate complaints by developers about the planning process but in a statement she said she felt she “had and should exercise discretion to investigate”.

In its complaint Nestwood said it acted unreasonably and unfairly and that the company director suffered a great deal of stress, that the company was villified in the media and that costs and damages the company suffered amounted to £1.2m.

The Ombudsman says that the council did take legal advice on the matter that was “clear and unambiguous” that it had inadvertently passed planning permission.

It found that officers reports to the development control committee were poor, that officers’ views at the council did not match national guidance and that committee members had predetermined their views.

The Ombudsman recommends that the council should apologise in person to Nestwood and on its website. It also wants the council to appoint an accountant to assess Nestwood’s losses and pay the company director £25,000 “in recognition of the stress, strain on family relations and fear of damage to the company’s reputation caused by the maladministration.”

The development proved controversial for nearby residents, who complained their houses were overshadowed. Many were later offered compensation and an apology from the council.