Reappraisal of Planning Breaches

25-Sep-19

Dear Angela,

Since I wrote to you, and copied Cllr Francis and others on 12-Sep-19 things have rapidly moved on and are mirroring events that took place more than five years ago. You and everybody can now see them unfold in real time. In the spring of 2014 the Planning Officers stifled a legitimate complaint so they did not have to respond to it. The complaint was that the enclosure on the slipway on River Drive (shed) was not built to the approved plan and the Council had done nothing about it.

UK Docks and or South Tyneside Council, it was not clear from the correspondence, in telling you that permission had been granted retrospectively for the shed have admitted that the shed was built without planning permission and thereby conceding that we had been right for all along and it was nearly 3 meters taller than planned.

The Planning Manager actually conceded that point in February 2014 but his replies were written in such a way that any one of them could be read alone to mean the shed at the height built had been approved and the Council soon reverted to the view, May 2014 that it was not taller than planned.

Therefore UK Docks have never applied for permission retrospectively because there was never any need as the Council kept telling everybody and that even included me:

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

This has been repeated in various forms for five years but since May this year that claim was shattered:

“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.

I know that they had not applied for any permission retrospectively as I had owed a property within sight and sound of the offending shed until July 25th this year and had never had sight of anything presented to the Council for comment and approval. I think any one who lives in that end of Greens Place or in Harbour View can confirm that this is true.

The Council are now between a rock and a hard place. For five years they have thwarted any progress towards establishing the truth about the height of the shed and it appears that when UK Docks were told that the evidence from 1996, an approved drawing, showed that they did not have permission for the shed, they then claimed that it had been given retrospectively and that is certainly not true.

I alluded to this drawing when I thanked Planning Manager in March 2014 for conceding that the shed was not as planned but I always preferred to use the only other approved plan made available to us and that was the one produced after their agents met with the Planning Manager in August 2013. It also showed that the shed was nearly 3m taller than planned.

I am now persuaded that there is some truth in some of what the Council told the Ombudsman: cf. 22 – “A more senior officer checked the measurements; he found the width at ground level was just less than one metre wider than the permission allowed. The Council decided the developer had not built the shed entirely in accordance with the approved plans and so had not met condition 2. The Council decided this was a breach of planning control. This took place in September 2013but it appears that the more senior officer’s visit on the 17th was not recorded.

We can take the more senior officer to be Mr Cunningham and he reported that the shed was 18.2m high at the river end and 12.2m wide.

Bearing all this in mind, I thought it a bit unfair to ask you, any other Councillor or MP to waste time trying to get an honest answer out of either the Council or UK Docks when I had failed for six years so I went right back to the original grant ST/0242/96 and put the problem back to where it belonged, with building control:

1) It was claimed that the variation from plan was not material so there was nothing to enforce. Following approaches to the current owners by Councillor Hamilton and the MP for South Shields, they – UK Docks, are now saying that they they were given permission for it retrospectively which I know to be untrue.

Please confirm that this is so and issue a somewhat belated enforcement notice and put the argument about whether the 2nd condition was met back where it belongs: between UK Docks and the Council and not where it has been for 5 years; between the local residents who say it is too high and the Council who say it is not.

That was sent to Building Control who wasted no time (15 minutes?) in trying to shift the responsibility onto planning and they did this by misinforming Debbie Graham. At least she had the grace to let me know that she had been instructed to get rid of the query:

2) Hi Planning
Please see attached and email below which I believe was meant for planning
Regards
Debbie
Debbie Graham Operations & Partnership Officer

I pondered this for a day or so then asked her return it to Building Control for the attention of the Enforcement Officer:

3) Please pass my observations back to Building Control for the attention of the Chief Enforcement Officer with the addition that the current structure now has vertical sides. Please see the additional attachments, the plans in 1996 show a structure with sloping sides but the current structure has vertical sides and note that this was approved by the Planning Manager in October 2013.

To illustrate how this mirrors events in January 2014 please compare the dialogue above with the dialogue below starting with the complaint of 10-Jan-14:

1) There are no detailed plan drawings available to the public for ST/0242/96/UD. There is only one drawing for ST/1146/13/COND, which shows the river facing elevation and details of the strip curtain door fixings. Examination of this drawing number (8296/14) gives a detail of a beam (portal column) width 0.686mtres, with which the height and width of the north elevation can be gauged. The north elevation is 15.6m high with a width of 12.2m. . . .the structure is 3 metres higher and 1 metre wider than shown on 8296/14. As the applicant has not discharged condition 2 why is there no retrospective planning application?

That complaint was intercepted by Mr Cunningham who firstly misdirected it to a residents group whom he had already misled about whether the shed had been approved or not.

2) May I therefore suggest that you speak with the Chair of the residents group in respect of the points that you have raised below, as these have already been discussed and explained. If you are still not satisfied with the Council’s response then you should use the Council’s complaints procedure which has 3 stages.

The group was not part of the Council and anyway the Chair had an interest in UK Docks. What was his company, HB Hydraulics, doing on Tyneside if he was not touting for business off people like UK Docks? I was not satisfied with Mr Cunningham’s response and wrote to Development Services about it but received no response. Anyway, I was not foolish enough to go back to the residents group so I asked him again to address the complaint.

3) Dear Mr Cunningham,
Thank you for your message. As you no doubt observed my message was sent to the Planning Department in general and not to you specifically. However out of courtesy I will respond.
Firstly I was contacting planning not under the umbrella of the Tyne Gateway Association, but as an individual and resident of Greens Place.
Much as I appreciated your meeting with the above mentioned Association I am personally not satisfied with the outcome, particularly as new issues have come to light. The issues I refer to are the date stamp on drawing no 0296/1A and drawing for application ST/1146/13/COND which is not a match for the current structure.
Therefore until I have some satisfactory answers to my very reasonable questions I do not consider this matter closed.
If you are unable to supply me with answers to my questions could you please pass the issue to someone who can.

It did get passed to the Planning Manager but before he admitted to me that the shed was to high he seeded the misrepresentation that it was the approved height by reference to a faulty drawing and I, or should I say we, were not able stop the Council from repeating it.

That is until someone told you that the Council had granted retrospective planning permission for the shed we now see and we must wait to see what the Enforcement Officer says, that is if it does not get misdirected by Debbie Graham again.

My mistake in January 2014 was to contact Planning Enquiries because it ended up in the bin, unanswered. Judging by the response I got from Building Control, I fear my request for the Chief Enforcement Officer to get on the case is going to end up in one as well.

I guess it will not be answered either and I’ve chosen a memorable date, 31-Oct-2019, to reappraise the situation again.

Yours sincerely

Michael Dawson

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