South Tyneside Council have allowed a slipway shelter to be built and used without planning permission.
Why it has been allowed to happen is not known but appears to stem from the assumption that UK Docks were being above board when they told the Planning Office that the shelter was being built to approved plans.
Why the Principal Planning Officer , Mr Peter Cunningham, continued to say that it was being built to plan when evidence showed otherwise is baffling to say the least.
Why the work was allowed to progress after the Planning Manager, Mr Gordon Atkinson, could no longer defend the proposition that “The dimensions of the steelwork have been checked on site and they are in accordance with the measurements shown on the approved drawings.” is even more baffling.
It appears that to avoid taking action the Council have implied the increase in height and width are not material. This might explain why UK Docks were not asked to stop work and dismantle the structure or submit a retrospective planning application.
They are material however but this fact has never been brought to the attention of the enforcement officer and as it it not illegal to build without planning permission UK Docks can say they have done nothing illegal.
All evidence points to the shelter being built 3 meters taller than planned and the Head of Development Services, Mr George Mansbridge, and has said, “That would represent a significant deviation from the approved scheme”. It looks as if he has decided that that evidence does not suit his purpose so has chosen to ignore it.
The Council have also told the Local Government Ombudsman that there is no material difference in width and thus avoided censure by them. There is something wrong somewhere and I believe it is centred around the complaints system.
The Complaints System.
It has become apparent over the last 18 months that whenever the Planning Office are questioned about the size of the slipway cover they become evasive and do not answer questions directly. They duck having to give a straight answer and refer you to the complaints system. If you have had anything to do with Planning and the way they operate the Complaints System you will know the implications.
The Principal Planning Officer was very helpful at the start but within a few days of the framework going up, 9th Sept 2014, had referred one enquirer to the Complaints System.
When he was questioned on the width of the cover three months later, he replied on 20th Dec, that he had measured it and that it conformed to approved plans. When pressed he referred me to the complaints system on the 13th Jan.
When I went over his head to the Planning Manager registered the complaint on the email of the 14th rather than register the complaint of the 10th . When I introduced the height issue he also referred me to the Complaints System (28th Jan). He finally conceded that the cover was not built to an approved plan on Friday 13th Feb.
The Head of Development Services did something similar when I wrote to him on the 4th April 2014. I say something similar because he handles middle stages of the Complaints System. What he did, instead of agreeing or countering my proposition that the cover was 3m too high, was to ask one of his staff to raise a new complaint from my letter. He has never admitted that the shed is built 3m higher than authorised plans allow.
Customer Advocacy, Michaela Hamilton, avoided the question of height altogether and was satisfied that when George Mansbridge made the decision on behalf of the Council that it was not expedient to take planning enforcement action, he was fully aware of the discrepancies with regards to the width.
The upshot of all this is that by the time a complaint gets to the Local Government Ombudsman they think they have been asked to look into something that South Tyneside Council describes as a matter of opinion which is in reality an example of maladministration.