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    Authority failings caused ‘justifiable outrage’

    A Somerset council has insisted that a planning error which caused “justifiable outrage” according to a watchdog was a “one off” incident which would not be repeated as it had reviewed its planning procedures and strengthened its enforcement arrangements.

    South Somerset Council was heavily criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman over the handling of an application for a manufacturing business and subsequent delays in taking enforcement action.

    The watchdog found maladministration causing injustice after investigating a complaint.

    The complainant – a business rival of the applicant – argued that the council had incorrectly sought to approve the scheme and when it was later refused, delayed taking enforcement action against what represented unauthorised operations.

    As a result the complainant was forced to operate in “an adverse business environment” and was forced to pay for professional advice longer than he should have.

    The Ombudsman concluded that the council’s initial decision to grant planning approval was flawed because it did not have reliable information on the economic justification for the scheme and its intention to make the approval subject to a legal agreement was irrelevant to the planning issues.

    When planning permission was eventually refused for the proposal the council took eight months too long to start enforcement proceedings.

    The planning authority was recommended to pay £5,000 in compensation to the complainant because of “justifiable outrage” over the council’s performance.
    In a statement after the Ombudsman’s report the council said it accepted all the watchdog’s findings. Mark Pollock, the council’s corporate director for economic vitality, said: “We have completely reviewed and revised our planning department since this case and have established a far more rigorous checking of planning application information that ensures complete information is available before a decision is made.”

    The Planning Portal 31st May 2007