Ombudsman recommendations rejected

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SOUTH Holland District Council has refused to pay compensation to a developer following a planning wrangle.

A Local Government Ombudsman had recommended Nestwood Homes receive more than £250,000 after maladministration by the council in the way it dealt with a development in Old Main Road, Fleet, dating back to 2006.

The developer had originally asked for more than £1.2m.

The money was intended to compensate the company and one of its directors for the “financial difficulties and losess, damage to reputation, stress and strain on family and business relationships” suffered as a result of the council’s actions.

But councillors stuck by a decision they made in December not to pay up because to do so could result in an eight per cent hike in council tax for the district.

To raise council tax by such a large degree would require a referendum and comes at a time when the Government is asking local councils to put a freeze on council tax.

But members have been forced to accept the ombudsman’s finding of maladministration against them after she carried out a thorough investigation into the council’s actions.

The dispute started when Nestwood built new homes on a different land level to existing properties, which prompted enforcement action and a public inquiry.

Speaking at a meeting of the district council last week, Coun Nick Worth said: “The council should act as responsible stewards of resources for the benfit of the community.

“An alternative to raising the council tax to pay the compensation would be to use council reserves, but in light of the fact there is likely to be more spending cuts they will be needed to weather that storm.”

Coun Worth’s proposal that the council reject the ombudsman’s recommendations, which also called for a personal apology by the council’s chief executive and chairman to Nestwood, and a public apology on the authority’s website, was supported by members.

As a result of their decision, Nestwood could now choose to take legal action and if the ombudsman is not satisfied with the decision, she will prepare another report with new recommendations.

If she remains unsatisfied she can require the council to publish a statement setting out its non-compliance.