Council and the Ombudsman v The Residents

Hi Julie,
When you let me know that UK Docks Ltd registered address is now River Drive, I was busy with the email I sent you on the 8th January about the meetings we had in late 2013. I’ve re-posted a tidier version on the site ‘TGA and STC v the Residents’ and added some illustrations to make it very clear that I was using an approved drawing which directly contradicted what Mr Cunningham was saying. I also dropped the reference to the Chair and Treasurer of the TGA being Freemasons as it was not relevant to Mr Cunningham misinforming both the Councillors and the Residents at the fateful meeting in November 2013.
Thanks for the letting me know about ST/0921/17/FUL but I’ve tried comparing this development with others before and failed but what I have discovered is that South Council use the Ombudsman, or should I say misuse, by giving them misinformation and /or misrepresentations about drawings, sequence of events etc. to cover up mistakes made by their planning/building inspection teams. There appears to be nobody taking responsibility for making sure that plans are followed.
I knew from earlier dealings with the Council that they were quite prepared to give misinformation to the Ombudsman. When I complained about a pair of house extensions, a joint application for 71 and 72 Greens Place, I felt that my complaints were not properly considered. Both home owners had effectively built a third floor and more than that, the extension of 71 occupied 100% of the back yard and has rooftop balconies front and back.
My complaint got ‘lost’ in the complaints procedure, plans were removed from or not recorded on the Planning Portal and there is evidence that the Ombudsman had been misinformed by Council to cover all this up.
I was pondering whether to complain to the Ombudsman or write to David Miliband MP about it when the development at Tyne Slipway started.
I decided to concentrate on UK Docks ‘shed’, because it would make a better story, David v Goliath, including what I consider to be, a corrupt Council. The picture of a huge shed built and used without planning permission splashed across the pages of a national newspaper would make more of an impression than comment in the local rag about a dispute between neighbours.
Both Melanie/Matthew and I came to the same conclusion through different routes, and I’m sure we weren’t the only ones, that the shed, as we called it at the time, was taller than planned so when the Principal Planning Officer, Mr Cunningham, declined to answer questions about it our suspicions were confirmed.
Some of us thought what the way round this was to resurrect the TGA and I thought that the Chairman would resign because of his business interests but he did not and what was worse, the Treasurer’s post was filled by a director of HB Hydraulics who had an office in Wallsend at that time. I believe the Chairman was the procurement officer for HB Hydraulics. One might ask why I know all this but they were the owners of 71 and 72 Greens Place respectively and I lived next door.
Thus the top posts of the TGA were then occupied by two businessmen who would require the goodwill of the ship repair yards on the Tyne to conduct their business and it does not take much imagination to see where their loyalties lie. I did mention this, if you remember, to the TGA Committee but it is not recorded in any minutes.
There are yet more links between 71 Greens Place and UK Docks and they are;

  • both had been built outside the remit of the granted permission;
  • the same building inspector, Mr Telford, was assigned to both.

There was not much I could do about the leadership of the TGA but I made sure I got to a meeting brought about by Cllr Anglin to make sure that they stuck to the agenda; to provide evidence to support their view that structure had been built to plan. None was provided.
The meeting took place at the Town Hall on 5-Nov-13 and I asked Mr Cunningham directly about the width and height of the structure but he said it was compliant on both counts. He did not provide any evidence to support his claim nor has anyone since!
He sent drawings which were not approved and could be interpreted; either to show that the cover was 2.7m too high or wrongly that the road end was the planned height at 15.5m. I say wrongly because the the approved prints say that the structure is 2.7m too high.
Besides misleading us about the height and the width Mr Cunningham said that we had requested the meeting. No – we wanted to be at the meeting because we needed to check everything was above board. I point this out to you because Mr Haig said, and this is in the TGA minutes from the meeting later the same day, that the plans or drawings were from 1996. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, the only authorised drawing from 1996 with dimensions is 8296/2 and it confirms a river end of 15.5m. It also confirms that UK Docks and the Council are misusing 8296/1A or 1B.
Whether Mr Cunningham knew all this at the meeting in November does not really matter but he said, after I had informed him via Cllr Anglin, about the width; “The dimensions of the steelwork have been checked on site and they are in accordance with the measurements shown on the approved drawings.”
Likewise who is to believe the Planning Manager when he said: “The dimensions of the steelwork have been checked on site and they are in accordance with the measurements shown on the approved drawings.” Added to this, I had shown that the structure was too high using the Agents Drawing, 8296/14, the only other approved drawing with dimensions.
This is where the ‘Alternative Complaints Procedure’ kicks in and if one is determined it leads to the Ombudsman being misinformed.
I thought that they were using the Ombudsman to cover up bad decisions but it confirmed for me while listening to a news item on Radio 4, about the Ombudsman having no ‘bite’, that this should be turned on its head. Planners/building control or others are able to mislead us because they know that the Management will ‘sort’ things with the Ombudsman.
Basically they could say what they liked about the drawings and plans etc. because they knew they could get away with it. There is nothing left for the Ombudsman to get to grips with when it come to them having to decide whether to uphold a complaint.
What did dawn on me was that Councils could allow bad planning decisions to stand because the could abuse the Ombudsman’s ‘final say’ to cover it up and that it was not particular to planning or South Tyneside Council.  I’m not saying that all councils misuse the complaints system just those that have lost control to ‘vested interests’.
The Program was ‘You and Yours’ so I wrote to them and got a non-committal response. I did not expect anything else because I left it a bit and what I was saying was too big for a sound bite. It does explain some of the problems we have had and why we have had them. If anyone wants to pursue the theme with the BBC or anywhere else for that matter, please feel free to use any material on the website.
Much that we have seen points back to mistakes made by planning control when the foundations were set in 2001. It appears the breaches in width and length were both ignored at that time and brushed aside by today’s planning officers.
The height is a bit different because they claimed there was no material difference by using unauthorised plans back in 2014 and when I recently tried to point this out to the Head of Legal Services I got this from Customer Advocacy:
I will not be forwarding on your email or drawings as they remain the subject or your historic complaint. If you are unhappy with the Ombudsman’s investigation of your complaint you should raise that with them directly.”
The first fact hidden in this is; the complaint that the first Inspector had been misinformed was dismissed because the second Inspector said it would not be considered as it arrived after an arbitrary deadline set by himself.
The second hidden fact is; there are two approved drawings that show the cover or shed is nearly 3m taller than planned and the plans that UK Docks and the Council use, to pretend otherwise, have never been approved and are probably not legal documents.
MD 3-Feb-18

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