I've Been Framed

Background

Planning reference K/58638/VAR . Retrospective planning application to vary  condition 2 of K/53588/F to allow retention of a children’s climbing frame in the paddock of 22A,  Jasmine House, Woodland Road, Patney, Wiltshire.

A large climbing frame (more suited to a children’s recreation ground than a back garden) was erected without planning permission in Feb 2008 on a paddock at the back of my property designated as within an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and subject to stringent planning controls. I queried this with the then Kennet District Council and they advised the owners to apply for retrospective planning permission which they did. 

The paddock is subject to a condition restricting development because of a public right of way which runs diagonally across the land. This footpath was illegally diverted around the edge of the paddock. Permitted development rights removal was imposed on the paddock when change of use was granted from agricultural to garden use by the previous owners. This was to stop all but essential development on the paddock due to the AONB designation and the proximity of the public footpath. 

Incredibly and despite valid objections from neighbours, retrospective planning permission was granted subject to just painting the structure green.

Actions undertaken by myself

June 2008:

On learning of the approval I read the planners report. It was very brief and contained little information as to why the structure had been allowed. I therefore wrote to the planner who did the assessment ( Mr Peter Horton at KDC)  asking for more detailed reasons and explanations as the structure is clearly out of place right at the back of my property. I got a dismissive and arrogant written response with no useful information to explain his decision to approve the application.

I also contacted my local councillor Tony Molland to engage his help. All he did was simply repeat the mantra  I got from the  KDC planning dept – “no planning justification to refuse the application”.  Subsequent attempts to involve my local councillor were an utter waste of time,  he was n’t at all  interested in helping out and when he did eventually turn up late for a pre-arranged meeting to go over some details he no doubt hoped I was out so he would n’t have to get involved. He gave me no information that I did n’t already have.

Patney Parish council:

They get copies of all local planning applications affecting the village  and failed to correctly review the application as they are required to do. They did n’t even have the application in front of them when they discussed it, yet they saw fit to pass judgement on it!  On querying this with the PPC chairman, Mr Nigel Partridge, I got nothing but  obfuscation and dismissive ness. I asked my local Councillor, Tony  Molland to contact them with a view to going over the correct procedure regarding planning applications submitted to them for comment. He never bothered  following this up.

June 2008:

I therefore commissioned an independent planning consultant (Robert Gillespie from Impact Planning Services) to investigate the planning application and carry out another assessment based on the criteria that the council should have used in determining the planning application.  His report was very detailed, illuminating and contained a number of details that the council completely omitted to take into account. Briefly he found:

My consultants report goes into the specific details and will not be reproduced here.

Planning solicitors were engaged to check the legal and procedural aspects of Peter Horton’s assessment and 2 avenues of approach were identified – Judicial Review       (hugely expensive) or a complaint to the LGO.

October 2008

Following the council’s standard complaints procedure a complaint letter together with my consultants report was sent to the KDC planning dept. The planning manager at the time (Mr Ted Howles) looked into it and wrote back completely dismissing my consultants report and any suggestion that they had made any mistakes or oversights. It was at this point that KDC realised they had completely missed the footpath running diagonally across the paddock and had assessed from the wrong footpath ¼ mile away to the south! In their reply KDC planners attempted to obfuscate and cloud the issue trying to divert attention away from their mistake in their response back to me and my consultant.

October 2008

The complaint was raised to the 2nd level with KDC by submitting to the CEO, further reiterating the issues raised in the report and rejecting the planning depts attempts at a smokescreen. All he did was refer it straight back to the planning dept again who just repeated their excuses to him! The written response from KDC CEO was therefore equally dismissive of the issues my consultant had raised.

December 2008

Raised a complaint with the Local Government Ombudsman

Feb 2009

LGO looks at my case documentation I had sent them and contact me by phone. The LGO investigator (Mrs Margaret Watson) was less than enthusiastic to undertake an investigation and attempted to shut the complaint down after just the initial phone call. She refused to contact my consultant and it was only when my consultant directly contacted her shortly after my initial conversation, that the complaint was then only very reluctantly accepted.  The investigator was provided with a very comprehensive file of information including a copy of my consultant’s report and references to all the planning objections, submissions and an analysis of the planners report.

Feb 2009

The LGO investigator submits some very weak questions to Wiltshire’s planning dept (KDC now merged into the new Wiltshire Council unitary authority). Yet another planner, Mr Mike Wilmott, responded with more obfuscation but finally admitted that they did not refer back to the original change of use application to ascertain the reasons for imposing the restrictive condition on the paddock.  Amazingly, he also retrospectively produced a photo as evidence to backup their assertion that they did do their assessment from the paddock footpath. This is in direct contradiction to the case officer’s report published on their website where it states explicitly that they viewed the structure from the southern footpath ¼ mile away. They were therefore deliberately misleading and trying yet again to cover up their mistakes. The photo was taken for nothing more than normal documentary reasons. My consultant and I were asked to comment on the council’s response which we duly did pointing out their further attempts at obfuscation and diverting attention away from the central issues. Mrs Watson took no notice of our new submissions or simply did n’t understand the issues again.

March 2009

At the beginning of March I contacted my MP, Michael Ancram for help and support. This he was unable to do because the investigation was ongoing and also because the LGO are not accountable directly to parliamentary scrutiny. Disappointing is one word that could used here. He asked to be kept informed and to contact him again once the investigation had concluded.

Mrs Watson contacted me again to inform me of her findings and recommendation to the ombudsman who would write to me in due course. She also informed me that she would be retiring at the end of March but a decision should be with me by the end of April and another investigator would be taking over the case.  She flatly refused to accept any more discussion or evidence about the issue, her mind was made up and the case would go to the Ombudsman with her current findings which were to dismiss the complaint.  Basically she was only concerned with clearing her caseload before retirement and didn’t appear to give a damn.

April 2009

No response from the ombudsman regarding my complaint.

May 2009

Contacted the LGO to enquire again as to what was happening. Received a letter from the LGO at the end of May informing me that my case has been dismissed as Ombudsman Jerry White believed the council’s version of events despite all the contrary factual evidence which we had uncovered.

Conduct of the complaints – KDC

KDC complaints process was a sham exercise and not taken seriously. Rather than accept and put right their mistakes when first highlighted they seeked to cover them up and confuse and obfuscate the issues.  The 2nd level complaint process was a complete waste of time as the CEO just redirected the complaint back to the planning dept to comment on for a 2nd time! My local councillor Tony Molland just was n’t interested, he merely went through the motions of being seen to be doing “something”.

Conduct of the complaints – The LGO

I did n’t really expect any meaningful response from KDC to right a very obvious wrong so I raised my complaint with the LGO in the mistaken belief that they were impartial and fair. The LGO website documentation is detailed and gives the impression they actually care and will do their utmost to rectify planning problems and mistakes.  The reality is totally different and if they were subject to the Trades Description Act they would have been shut down years ago.

June 2009

Contacted Michael Ancram MP again who came round for a personal visit where I described the circumstances of my complaint. The only course of action he could undertake was to see if any Parliamentary Committees could look at the complaint as part of their “oversight” of the ombudsman.  A few weeks later the answer came back that they could not look at individual cases. Mr Ancram asked to be kept informed of the outcome of the LGO review that I would be requesting.

Asked for a review to be undertaken as per the LGO procedure.  I was informed that this would be delayed due to staff being on holiday. Mr Stephen Purser another LGO investigator unconnected with my case would do the review. I specifically asked he contact me and my consultant before carrying out the review. After obtaining Mrs Watson’s records of my case via an FOI request, I created a new summary document ( as Mrs Watson’s ignored and left out the salient points of my arguments!) for Stephen Purser to use in conjunction with speaking to me and my consultant to ensure he understood the issues involved. I pointed out that its no use reviewing someone else’s notes if they are incorrect or missing the details, it just means you reach the same conclusion based on faulty information. My request for a call was subsequently completely ignored, I never heard anything from him, absolutely nothing!

September 2009

Just as I was about to contact Mr Purser about the on-going delay my documentation folder was returned to me in the post together with a letter from Jerry White informing me that the review had been done and the case was closed. The excuses contained in it were even more outrageous than his previous letter. Stephen Purser never had the common courtesy to even contact me, he just did whatever an investigator does with LGO reviews and never even bothered to inform me beforehand of his views before submitting them back to Jerry White for a “decision”.

So after all the damning factual evidence we compiled, proof (including our own photographic evidence to back it up) , time and effort spent on researching and proving my case way beyond any doubt, the LGO just dismiss it out-of- hand and accepted the council’s explanation and misleading cover-ups. In this case the Council has condoned the construction of a structure initially in breach of planning control and by its dismissive and cursory attitude, the illegal blocking and diversion of a public right of way. The message is that those who ignore the rules will probably get away with it and those who feel affected by these decisions will be ignored!

Return to contents list

Copyright © 2009 - Andy Sharp.
All Rights Reserved.
E-mail andy@patney.demon.co.uk