Cllr A: Mail to Melanie

Amble, 16-Jul-19

Dear Melanie,

If I’ve got it right, you were talking about us raising, a month or so back, a freedom of information request (EIR) about UK Docks. You seemed amazed as I was that they were telling people that they had applied for and been granted retrospective planning for their slipway enclosure (Mr Wilson’s boat shed) on River Drive:

“Hi Mick,I appreciate your arguments, but this far down the line there is nothing we can do. Angela has talked to several relevant people, and the point is the council gave retrospective planning. Which they are allowed to do.”

Resident of Harbour View, 1-May-19.

It completely destroys any credit in what the Council have been telling us about Tyne Slipway and later UK Docks for over 5 years i.e. the height of their shed had been approved. There is no evidence of an application being raised let alone one being granted retrospectively. There was no need for one and I refer to the response Mr Cunningham gave you to an enquiry you made in June 2014:

Hello – The Head of Development Services is out of the office at the moment and I have been asked to respond to your email – my colleague from the Building Control Team has confirmed that they sent the completion certificate out on June 17th. The final Building Control inspection was on 13th June.
Regards
Principal Planning Officer

Obviously his colleague, Mike Telford, took no measurements or he would have found Mr Wilson’s boat shed (shed) to be nearly a meter wider and nearly three meters taller than planned. In fact I discovered later that Building Control had never measured the shed, see EIR17772, nor was Mr Cunningham’s visit recorded either, see EIR17773.

It has never been explained why Mr Cunningham was doing the measuring, 17-Sep-13, instead of Mr Telford but to summarise, he found the shed to be 22m x 18.2m x 13.1m. The approved plans say it should be 22m x 15.5m x 12.2m so it was nearly 3 meters too tall as well as nearly a meter too wide. It looks like the Enforcement Officer was not informed and explains why UK Docks were never asked to remove their shed or rebuild it to the approved dimensions and why there is no retrospective plan.

It is doubtful that they would have got their taller shed and almost certain they would have not been permitted the longer one so why would they risk it? They may also have had a problem with making the sides vertical. I was told, by the Planning Manager; “The variation in the angle of the pillars is not considered to be material.” and it looks like he agreed that with their Agent in August 2013. It was not within his power to determine whether it was immaterial and it is reasonable to assume that was why he said what he did when I complained that the shed was wider and taller than planned:

The dimensions of the steelwork have been checked on site and they are in accordance with the measurements shown on the approved drawings. The variation in the angle of the pillars is not considered to be material.

Planning Manager, 15-Jan-14

He, like his Principal Planning Officer before him, did not want any retrospective review of the plans for the obvious reason, it would have come to light that the Enforcement Officer had not been told about the variation from plan, or if he had, he had done nothing about it.

I can think of no other reason why we were told at the meeting in November 2013 that the shed was compliant. Summarised by the email I got from Cllr Anglin after I told him shed was too wide:

Please see below the reply from Peter (Cunningham). “Hello – I confirmed at our meeting with Mr Dawson and others on 25th Sept Nov 2013 that I had measured the width and length of the ground floor external footprint and height of the structure and that these dimensions were all in accordance with the attached approved drawing and planning permission.

Councillor Anglin, 19-Dec-13

The plans he had attached were not approved and the authorised plan from 1996 with dimensions shows a shed 3m lower than that built. It was therefore not in accordance the approved plans. It was 2.7m too high and nearly a meter too wide.

On the question of width he was plainly wrong. The drawings all show that the planned width was 12.2m but the shed was 13.1m wide. While the residents had been informed about the height before the meeting they had not been told about the width for some reason and I had to go and check it for myself only to confirm what Mr Cunningham had found two months before.

The Council have agreed since that the width was a material consideration as confirmed in the response to our Petition by the Head of Development Services:

Apart from the width these dimensions are either entirely in accordance with the approved plan, or subject to such minor deviation that they are properly categorised as non-material changes.

A Senior Planning Officer told the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), paragraph 23, the degree of departure from the plans – less than one metre – was “non-material.” In anyone’s book this was a lie. The width of the footings were a material consideration in 2001, when they were measured by Mr Cunningham in September 2013 and when he responded to Cllr Anglin in December 2013. This information was withheld from the Enforcement Officer.

Under the heading The Development Permitted in 1996, Mr Mansbridge in his response to our Petition also says; “The approved dimensions of the steelwork are: Proposed height 15.5m at the River Drive end”, a misrepresentation first made when the original complaint was passed to the Planning Manager in mid January 2014. You will notice that there is no reference number in the title. That is because Mr Cunningham had not registered the complaint and an indication that the Council’s complaints procedure had been compromised.

I was thrown at first because I thought that this was to keep the numbers down which is clearly reprehensible in itself but it soon became clear that it was probably first complaint that used an approved drawing to show non compliance with the 2nd condition. Central to the complaint was the question; “As the applicant has not discharged condition 2 why is there no retrospective planning application?”

Mr Cunningham already avoided this question by referring me back to the Chair of Tyne Gateway Assn (TGA), Graeme Watson, and then the Planning Manger avoiding the question by denying that anything was amiss and referring me on to the Head of Development Services. Again there is no reference in the title and notice he has marked his response [PROTECT]. The complaints procedure was being more than compromised it was being abused.

I first noticed the use of PROTECT by Mr Cunningham when he avoided answering your enquiry about the height which was; “Has the revised height of 15.5metres been approved or is it in breach of the 1996 Planning approval?”

That was in September and Mr Cunningham again avoided the question at the meeting in November when he said the shed was compliant. The first time we had an answer in writing was in Cllr Anglin’s response to my telling him that the shed was wider than planned, 19-Dec-13, page 2 top, and that; rather than the meeting was the 2nd turning point in the history of the shed.

The first was when the shed was measured (17-Sep) and nothing was done about about the variation from plan. Mr Cunningham appears to reflect the double standards of Building Control and the Enforcement Officer. I realised this was happening the year before when they were extremely diligent in trying to enforce Grade II* requirements on a Grade II Listed Building (mine) but failed completely to do anything about the development of the two houses east of mine.

Neither were built to plan. The Building Inspector said of the one with the single dormer nearly filling the entire width of the roof, 72, that the variation from plan was not material and he did nothing about 71 when advised it’s owner had reverted to what he wished to build rather than that for which was he was given permission.

The Council were alerted as soon as the owner of 71, Mr Ken Haig, started deviating from the approved plan but it was not brought to the attention of either the Building Control Officer or the Enforcement Officer, or if it was, they did nothing about it. You will see a theme developing here, especially when you know that the officers were the same as those in charge of the UK Docks development on River Drive, Messrs Mike Telford and Martin Eggenton. They are operating to two different standards and Mr Cunningham in turning a blind eye to the shed’s variance illustrates quite clearly which standard he was following.

As it was, my complaint about 71 Greens Place had been taken through the ‘Complaints Procedure’ and was with the LGO at the time Mr Haig was completing his redevelopment of 71 Greens Place. It was then that I became aware that the Council were using, or rather abusing, the LGO’s office to hide bad planning decisions and what was worse the LGO was complicit in it. I was contemplating writing to David Milliband MP about it but decided not to because two things occurred:

  1. the Council conceded that 71 Greens Place had in fact been completed without planning permission and approval for it would have to be applied retrospectively. ST/0749/13/FUL was over written by ST/0749/13/HFUL so the Council could avoid the question of enforcement and I did not pursue it because I decided to sell up and leave South shields.
    Incidentally there still is no planning permission for what you see today;
  2. the Principal Planning Officer, Mr Cunningham, started evading pertinent questions about UK Docks – he referred you to the ‘Complaints Procedure’ instead of answering the question about the planned height of the shed and I seem to remember that you and all the other protesters were also being blanked by the Ward Councillors and the MP’s Office Manager when you tried to involve them. It was clear he was telling them that the shed had been approved as well.

I had just taken my complaint against the ‘Ponderosa’ at 71 Greens Place all the way through the complaints procedure and realised that the Council were quite prepared to misinform the LGO and decided to concentrate my efforts on UK Docks shed because like you and some others, I worked out within a few days that despite what Mr Cunningham was telling the MP, Councillors and ourselves, it was built nearly three meters taller than planned and there was no way they could hide that from the LGO or so I thought.

What neither Mr Wilson nor Mr Cunningham realised was that the gradient (2.7m) gave scale to any side elevation of the shed but for the argument to be meaningful we needed to get hold of some approved or authorised plans to prove our point. The first thing anyone would say if we used unapproved drawings to try and show they were lying about the height would be something like – go and get some authorised drawings and then we will talk.

I think this sort of logic was lost on Cllr Anglin as he was quite happy to relay what he was told, to me and the wider world but what he did not know was that the Council had approved conditions 3 and 4 and that included a drawing which showed that condition 2 had not been complied with. I have attached my copy of the drawing and please note that the Council have never disputed my figures. It was also one of the drawings I sent to the LGO.

The other that I sent was 8296/1A which was used to explain to them that 15.5m was not the planned height of the land end. You only have to look at the first figure to see that the section at the river end was 15.5m x 12.2m. I did not press the issue because as I said before the drawing was not authorised. I preferred to use 8296/14 (Aug-13) which was approved by the Planning Manger himself and would have shown any approved amendments and the height was not one of them.

Cllr Anglin promised the TGA that he would get some resolution on the question of the planned height but failed, Mr Cunningham did not produce any documents to back up what he told us at the meeting. He did not provide any because there are none and both the Council and UK Docks knew that all along but it appears that UK Docks have cracked and that is why they are telling Angela that they have been granted permission retrospectively for what you see now. The Council are still in denial and will be till Mr Harding answers my letter of the 9th April.

Have you seen an authorised plan for a shed, 27.5m x 18.2m x 13.1m with vertical sides? No, nor has anyone else. Their claim is pure nonsense but what it does do is bring put a reality check on what the Council have been saying for the last five and a half years and what they said to the LGO.

It was clear from my troubles with the development of 71 Greens Place that the Council were misusing the service of the LGO to cover over bad planning decisions and the inexcusable conduct of the staff of South Tyneside Council and I wished I had written to David Milliband about the Haig’s. I would have got confirmation that South Tyneside Council were also using the LGO’s findings to generally mislead people and enquirers like MP’s in particular, about any development much earlier than I did (2years?).

As it was I did not get confirmation of the real purpose of deceiving the LGO until the unsolicited email from Customer Advocacy on 9-Dec-15 arrived, and you can see it was in three parts:

  1. the email of the 4-Dec-15 was a follow-up from an email, 30-Sep, where I explained that the shed was taller than planned and I asked a planner, backing the second phase of the development for evidence, if he disagreed with me. He could provide none and told Alison it was about enforcement when really it was about the lack of enforcement.
  2. I’d written to Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP explaining that the shed was nearly 3m too tall and if Mr Swales, the Chief Executive followed the example of his staff, he would say it wasn’t. I also asked him to to provide evidence to back up what he said. The person he asked to respond on his behalf could not provide any either and used the LGO’s findings as an excuse to cover this. She also had to make out that we were in the wrong about the shed; The matters and allegations raised by your constituent are well documented and have been subject to a number of enquiries from Mr Dawson and other local residents over a lengthy period of time. Mrs Hayley Johnson obviously did not tell Alison of that when she asked her to try and close down the discussion.
  3. This one has always intrigued me as it concerned some help Alison gave me in uncovering the mechanism by which the Staff were manipulating the complaints procedure. She passed me the screen print for 248789 a day or so after 13-Jul-15. The complaint went in on the 10-Jan-14 but the job refers to the escalation of from stage 1 to 2 of the 14-Jan. Anyway the clue may be in the penultimate paragraph of the email: As advised in my email of 22 July the Council do not intend to address this matter further. We ask that you refrain from referring to these historic issues in your further contacts with the Council.

Notice in 2. that Mrs Johnson’s reply is attachment 6 and I have asked Alison for a copy of the main letter but she has not sent one. Perhaps you could raise a request for information and see what other libellous things have been written about us.

Alison’s email shows the true reason for the Council giving a false account to the LGO, to mislead enquirers such as Anne-Marie and I took a copy of it to a solicitor for advice and got the response which I have attached.

I did write to Mr Tilbury but it came to ten pages and I had not covered everything. He already had copies of much of the correspondence with Messrs Cunningham, Atkinson and Mansbridge and the LGO’s Findings already so I asked Mr Swales directly to raise a “new” complaint and gave him few examples, and this is where we come across Mrs Haley Johnson again.

The first thing she does, is to say there is no evidence of the Council deceiving the LGO which somewhat conflicts with what Mr Tilbury said. In this, she mirrors what Mr Atkinson did when I first raised the issue with him. He said the shed was not taller than planned which again does not reflect the truth. A fairly concise explanation of the worst pieces of misinformation given the LGO appear in my letter to Mr Harding re my complaint against Cllr Angin (reference letter 9th April- page above – the first ref to para 23 should read 21).

Like Mr Cunningham who first received the original complaint, she did not register it and this is the first clue that she had no intention of making a proper reply. When you consider she is supposed to be responsible for the Council’s Complaints Procedure something is clearly wrong and the reference CX253539 she gives is to complaint raised by Mr Mansbridge, not by me. It should say lack of planning enforcement. He raised that so he did not have to respond to my complaint about his planning staff.

It all goes back to the meeting in November and his written response, 19th December, the first we had from the Council, please see top of page 2. Mr Cunningham still had space to come clean about the fact that he had assumed the responsibilities of of Building Control/Enforcement and he mismanaged it. I had confirmed that the shed was too wide on the 16th.

He had three days to say that if they wanted to continue they would have to apply retrospectively for permission to do so and all it would have taken was a phone call to Mr Wilson. We do not know what he said to UK Docks but he must have given them the all clear to resume work on their shed in January 2014.

He did not make that call as they never applied for any or maybe he did and he was told to get stuffed. Whatever it was the Town Hall got caught in a web of deceit that followed and now UK Docks are telling Angela and presumably the other ward Councillors that they had applied for permission retrospectively all along. If it was a Kellyanne at the Town Hall that is another business altogether.

Yours sincerely
Michael Dawson

One thought on “Cllr A: Mail to Melanie”

  1. When one is discussing whether a structure has been built to approved plans it is so obvious that authorised drawings give precedence over sketches and unauthorised drawings and that is why the meeting of 25-Nov-13 failed, the drawings were not approved.
    A second meeting with the Council, 8-Jul-14, failed for the same reason. The meeting was arranged to discuss the Agents Drawing 8296/14 but it was not tabled, 8296/1A was brought instead with the excuse that the former was just an engineer’s sketch.

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