'Remedy the injustice' - Investigation slams council's slow handling of controversial housing scheme
PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 August 2019 | UPDATED: 06:49 11 August 2019
A council's slow handling of a controversial housing development caused "frustration, inconvenience and trouble", an investigation found.
The Local Government Ombudsman upheld a complaint about East Suffolk Council's response to Persimmon Homes' development in Framlingham.
The 95-home estate has faced major opposition, including claims properties were built in the wrong design and location. Last month it was branded an "absolute disgrace" by Lord Marlesford in the House of Lords.
MORE: Housing development labelled 'absolute disgrace' during Lords debate
The Ombudsman's investigation looked into complaints raised by a resident neighbouring the development, who criticised ESC, formerly Suffolk Coastal District Council, and its response to his complaints of planning breaches.
The decision, made in April, upheld the complaint and ordered ESC pay £500 to "remedy the injustice" to the complainant, referred to as "Mr A". It found ESC's communication with Mr A was inadequate and there was a delay in deciding the application. "This was fault causing avoidable frustration, inconvenience, time and trouble," it concluded.
The council said it accepted the findings as a "full and final judgement". However it rejected claims by Framlingham Town Council, which recently said there were still unresolved issues.
Problems with the development began when work commenced too soon in November 2016 and SCDC issued it with a stop notice.
MORE: Persimmon Homes warned after starting work on Mount Pleasant in Framlingham
Mr A's first complaint to the council, in January 2017, was that the plot next to his home was being built closer than agreed.
Soon after, a council officer told Persimmon it was working to an unapproved plan and it would need to submit new applications or demolish the homes.
Although the developer submitted two applications - it took almost 18 months for the council to decide them.
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Meanwhile, Mr A made further complaints, including that houses were built to the wrong design and occupied before the completion of necessary highways works.
In January 2018, the case officer apologised to Persimmon for the delay in handling the application. Persimmon noted the council's then eight month delay in dealing with it.
Mr A complained once more in March 2018 about ESC's lack of enforcement action.
The case officer again acknowledged delays, but partially blamed the developer for submitting inaccurate documents. She said she had told Persimmon any work done before the applications's approval was at its own risk and would have to be rectified at its expense if refused.
ESC's final response to Mr A's complaint, in May 2018, accepted officers did not respond to his concerns promptly but said the issues would be resolved when the applications were determined.
The applications finally appeared before a committee in September 2018 when the planning officer's report said the developer had failed to construct the houses as approved. The committee was told officers would not have supported the design as built if it has been part of the original application. The committee agreed to visit the site to see the unauthorised work for themselves.
The committee met again in November when members decided to defer their decision so a liaison group of residents, town councillors and Persimmon representative could discuss the issues. In February, members met once more and approved the applications - though some said the whole episode had been an "absolute embarrassment".
MORE: Developers and planners criticised as controversial housing row finally concludes
Framlingham Town Council said it was "very disappointed" with the time taken to investigate alleged planning breaches.
"Breaches were notified to them as soon as they occurred, initially when only a few houses had been started, but by the time ESC pursued the matters, a year had passed and nearly all the houses were complete, and it was effectively impossible to enforce the planning consent," a spokesman added.
Persimmon Homes said it worked collaboratively with the council throughout the project and was satisfied the development had been built in accordance with the latest approved documents.
People living on the new development say they have grown tired of the criticism. William Taylor, who lives in one of the new homes, and was elected as one of Framlingham's ESC councillors in May, said recently that, while there had been concerns, the development had been approved by the planning committee and Persimmon had worked with residents to resolve issues.
"The residents will now just want to get on with enjoying their new homes," he added.