The Local Government Ombudsman has issued a further report against Durham County Council in relation to a planning complaint involving a predecessor authority.
The LGO issued its initial report in February 2012, which considered complaints from residents about the way Teesdale District Council considered planning applications to build cowsheds on farmland. Durham County Council was the successor authority to Teesdale.
In a further report issued this week, the LGO said the faults identified in the 2012 report had been revisited and amended. It found that:
- Teesdale officers were not at fault in granting permission for the first two planning applications under delegated authority.
- Teesdale’s Environmental Health Service did however fail to record and respond to the residents’ complaints about the impact on them.
- Durham CC failed to properly investigate the residents’ concerns that their repeated complaints had not been dealt with properly.
- Durham was wrong to grant planning permission for a third building because the officers’ report to the Area Planning Committee was seriously and inexcusably deficient.
“Regardless of events that have occurred since the issue of the 2012 report, the fact remains that the council has failed to impose the necessary conditions to ensure the future use of the land is appropriately and properly controlled,” the LGO said.
“Residents have been left with uncertainty about the level and nature of future activity at the site. And the situation is further exacerbated by the fact that some of the land is now in the hands of the official receiver, casting further uncertainty about future ownership and potential use.”
The Ombudsman said that whilst some of the issues identified in the original report had been satisfactorily resolved, many of the faults still stood.
“The use of the land needed to be controlled from the start of the planning process,” it said. “The council failed to do this and exacerbated matters by determining further applications without proper consideration of the controls needed to afford the residents’ amenity the necessary protection. The residents face continued uncertainty and injustice as a result of those failings.”
The LGO said it was satisfied that – since the 2012 report – the recommended level of financial redress had been or would be made to residents, and that the wrongdoings had been investigated and action taken.
However, it was not satisfied in relation to the third outstanding recommendation, which was to “commission an independent assessment of: the impact of the unrestricted use of the two existing agricultural buildings; the likely impact of the third building that has planning permission; and what measures could be taken to reduce that impact. In light of the independent assessment the council should consider whether to remove or amend the planning permission for all three buildings”.
The Ombudsman said two professional organisations and an expert had undertaken assessments in relation to the site, and all had concluded to varying degrees that the permissions should either not have been granted or should have been appropriately conditioned to protect residents’ amenity.
“This did not happen,” it said. “The future of ownership of the land is not known. But the council needs to formally demonstrate and consider what action it should now take to seek discontinuance of, or the imposition of conditions to, or revocation of, the three planning applications granted with fault in January 2006, January 2008 and July 2010 in accordance with the recommendation made in the 2012 report.”
The LGO called on Durham to confirm, within three months of the issue of the further report, how it intended to ensure it regained planning control of the land and reduce the potential for further injustice for all those concerned.