Council refuses to fork out £260,000 over homes row

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SOUTH Holland’s councillors have refused to pay out compensation of more than £260,000 relating to a controversial housing development or to accept a report accusing them of maladministration.

District council members unanimously disagreed with the findings of the Local Government Ombudsman, who had been investigating a three-year-old complaint into the authority’s actions with the Nestwood Homes development in Old Main Road, Fleet Hargate.

A special meeting was held on Monday to decide what action to take on the report, which recommended compensation be made to the developer for reasons including stress, strain and damage to reputation.

The long-running saga into the site started when new homes were built on a different land level to existing properties, which prompted enforcement action and a public inquiry.

Coun Roger Gambba-Jones, is chairman of the planning committee and was when the development was considered by the council.

He said on Mondat that he had “every confidence” councillors had given “long and due considerations” to the application.

He acknowledged those decisions were quashed by a planning inspector in March 2008 but criticised the Ombudsman for taking on this complaint.

He added: “It seems to me the Ombudsman was thinking somewhat woolily and was at worst biased in favour of this company and against our council unfairly in my opinion.”

Coun Bryan Alcock also raised concerns about the “strange” report.

He said: “I find some of the inflammatory way of talking within the report strange.

“I can recognise the style because it’s one I have used from time to time and that’s why I am not an Ombudsman.”

Councillors had been warned Nestwood Homes may choose to take action through the courts but Coun Francis Biggadike urged his fellow councillors not to be “afraid” if they did not accept the report.

“I believe the Ombudsman’s report was far from factual and not at all impartial,” he said.

Councillors voted in favour of receiving the report but said the council does not intend on paying any compensation.

They also invited the authority’s scrutiny panels to help the council ensure that lessons are learnt and any necessary procedures are introduced to avoid a repeat of this situation in the future.

The council intends to write to Nestwood Homes expressing regret but explaining their position.