Council sorry over 'favouritism' finding

A SUFFOLK council has issued an apology after it was accused of an “appearance of bias and favouritism” by approving a housing development planned by the son of a councillor.

Dave Gooderham

A SUFFOLK council has issued an apology after it was accused of an “appearance of bias and favouritism” by approving a housing development planned by the son of a councillor.

Forest Heath District Council has been found guilty of maladministration and told to pay compensation to affected residents after approving plans to build eight homes in Beck Row, near Mildenhall.

In a damning indictment by the Local Government Ombudsman, experienced planning committee members were said to have failed in their duty and were ordered to take additional training.

But the councillor in question, Terry Waters, hit back at the report, hinting he would consider legal action and stressing he and his son, James, who was behind application, had done nothing wrong.

Mr Waters told the EADT: “I would completely refute that me, my son or any council member has done anything wrong.

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“I declared an interest at the first opportunity and left the meeting when it was discussed. And I have complete faith in my fellow councillors who discussed it. There was nothing underhand at all.”

His son added: “This application took me over a year, with seven sets of plans, and at a cost of £2,000. Rather than be helped by my dad as a councillor, I would say I checked and double checked everything even more.”

The problems centred around controversial plans for a small housing development in Beck Row two years ago which led to concerns from some residents that it was close to a nature reserve and that an ancient oak tree could be destroyed - something Mr Waters successfully worked hard to safeguard.

The council, which approved the application despite recommendations to refuse, was found to have failed in its duty to have proper regard to material planning considerations.

Ombudsman Tony Redmond, who investigated after complaints from two village residents, said: “The ill-considered reasons for going against the officers' recommendation failed to address the policy objections and give the appearance of bias and favouritism towards the son of a member of the planning committee.

“The appearance given to complainants was that, had the applicant not been the son of a councillor, the application would have been refused under delegated powers.”

A second councillor, who has not been named, was criticised for asking for the application to be considered by the committee, rather than council officers, when he was neither a member of the committee nor the representative for the ward.

The ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice and recommended that Forest Heath apologise to the complainants, paying them £1,000 each, and give planning committee members relevant additional training.

A spokesman for Forest Heath said critical reports about the council were rare but offered a full apology to residents affected by the planning decision.

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