National Ombudsmen
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Cheshire East Council misled public over planning application

Cheshire East Council misled the public on a planning application to change the use of some agricultural land.

A report by the Local Government Ombudsman has upheld a complaint that the council withheld important information to the public during the consultation period – but later made it available on its website and backdated it.

The Ombudsman has recommended the council take professional advice on what options are now available in relation to the granted application – and consider revoking the approval if it is an option.

Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, said:

“I am deeply concerned about the council’s administrative and decision making processes in this case. The application was flawed and should not have been considered in the first instance, but despite that, it gave alarmingly significant weight to the applicant’s own testament regarding the previous use of the site.

“What is more concerning, however, is the council’s failure in its duty to properly consult with the community during the process – and the apparent attempt to cover up the error.”

The complaint against the council came from local residents who opposed the decision to grant planning to change the use of some agricultural land, near to a public right of way, to allow the parking and storing of vehicles and machinery.

The application was for a Certificate of Lawful Established Use or Development (CLEUD), which allows landowners to apply for permission if an unauthorised activity has been ongoing for a continuous period of 10 years without formal challenge.

Two pieces of key evidence – an aerial photograph and the applicants’ statutory declaration that the site had been used for parking vehicles for over 10 years – were not made available for members of the public to comment on during the consultation period.

Following some complaints to the council that documents appeared on its website after the consultation period, but backdated to appear as if they had been uploaded before the deadline, the council maintained that the complainants were incorrect. It wasn’t, however, until the Ombudsman’s investigation that the council conceded the documents had indeed been posted after the consultation period.

As well as reviewing the decision, the Ombudsman has recommended that the council apologise to the complainants, pay £500 to three complainants for their time and frustration in pursuing the case, and undertake staff training on CLEUD applications.

Dr Jane Martin added:

“I am pleased that the council has responded positively to the report, made assurances to avoid future issues on community consultation and is going to take independent advice on the validity of the planning approval.”

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